Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland has joined his neighbors in asking Prince William County to designate his land for data centers, saying there was no choice as the industry continues to expand.
Candland and his wife were among 19 homeowners in the Catharpin Farm Estates neighborhood who filed a Comprehensive Plan Amendment Nov. 4 seeking to change the designation of their property.
A Comprehensive Plan amendment does not rezone properties. It only changes what the county says it hopes for future use of the land. It does not bind the county, the board or the landowners to any guaranteed future uses. The properties would still require zoning approval to allow data centers.
The Prince William Times first reported on the request, but the document submitted to the county was unavailable as of press time. According to the Times, the request is to designate the land as tech/flex for data center uses. Candland posted about the request on Facebook after the Times’ story was published.
“[W]ith the consideration of Pageland Lane becoming a “data center alley,” the likes of which our region has never seen, this has put everything into turmoil,” Candland wrote.
The neighborhood is off Pageland Lane and near expansive properties seeking the same land-use designation change.
Sixteen landowners want to change the designation of 801 acres across 27 parcels from agricultural zoning to technology zoning for a “digital gateway” for data center development. In July, Candland cast one of three votes against the request, but it passed on a 5-3 vote.
Residents in the nearby Dominique Estates neighborhood have also requested a similar change on their 143 acres.
The data center industry is quickly booming in Northern Virginia. Other than real estate taxes, Prince William County’s primary levy on data centers is the business tangible property tax, which is projected to produce $63.4 million in revenue for the current fiscal year.
The industry has quickly become the center of land-use debates in the county. The issue has centered on a 23-year-old policy to restrict development in about 117,000 acres, or about 52% of its land, to no more than one home for every 10 acres with strict restrictions on the expansion of public sewer lines.
The policies that enacted those protections have been weakened this year through several party-line votes, with Democrats voting together to examine land-use topics countywide rather than only in the designated development area.
Comprehensive Plan amendment applications are typically accepted only at the start of the year. However, the county will consider requests outside the normal application period if they are for certain targeted industries, one of which is data centers.
Candland’s decision to join the Comprehensive Plan Amendment application means he must recuse himself from votes on any data center proposals along the Pageland Lane corridor.
The board’s July vote only initiated work on the amendment to the long-range land-use designation of those properties in the Comprehensive Plan. It was not to approve such a change.
County staff are still reviewing the July request and examining the proposal and its impact on the surrounding area. The board voted to expand the scope of the examination from just the requested properties to the entirety of Pageland Lane between U.S. 29 and Sudley Road.
Candland wrote on Facebook that expanding the study area roped his property into the issue without the property owners asking for it.
“With that action … the assault on the Rural Crescent was in our front yard, our back yard and every neighbor we had was facing the same reality of being in the expanded study area,” Candland wrote. “Now with that threat, homeowners along Pageland Lane are trying to figure out what to do about the biggest investment they have - their home. They don’t want to be an island among data centers.”
Prior to the July vote, Candland made a motion to postpone consideration of the proposal until the county finishes an examination of its Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District.
“Initiating this project at this point is way too premature,” Candland said. “We’re looking to have two parallel processes when one of those processes could be moot.”
The board voted in May to spend $120,000 to hire a consultant to study areas to expand the data center district along high-transmission power lines. The overlay district is currently 10,000 acres designated in 2016 to support data center development by reducing regulatory hurdles.
The consultant will examine potential areas to expand the district but will also consider necessary changes to construction standards, the Comprehensive Plan, zoning ordinance and any other effects from data centers.