Prince William County supervisors have agreed to at least examine the areas they have targeted for data center development.
The Board of County Supervisors voted 5-3 along party lines Tuesday to hire a consultant to examine the Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District. Democrats voted in favor of the study, while Republicans were opposed.
The move directs staff to spend an estimated $120,000 on a consultant to study expanding the overlay 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.
During public comment before the board’s discussion, 45 people spoke, with 26 in favor of expanding the district and 19 people in opposition.
Melanie Williams, who lives in the county’s rural area, said certain areas are no longer rural and allowing more data centers will increase the tax base without the stressors of residential development.
“This is a win-win for everyone in our county,” she said. “The idea of this area remaining rural is only temporary. It is time for us to do something that will benefit everyone.”
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. The study is expected to take six to nine months.
The work will come with an analysis of remaining land in the existing district and potential areas for redevelopment.
“I’m getting business owners in the current overlay who are being courted by data to repurpose their land,” said Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville. “The overlay isn’t just about vacant land.”
Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At-Large, cautioned that the action was purely for an analysis of expanding the district, and no formal expansion was being advanced yet.
“This is a study. Don’t interpret this as this is all approved,” she said. “The idea of doing this is to look at the ramifications.”
In other business, supervisors agreed on criteria for the redistricting process, agreed to hire an independent contractor to do the work and left the door open for potentially adding an eighth magisterial district.
State code requires localities to redraw magisterial districts every 10 years after the completion of the U.S. Census. Prince William has seven districts, with the board chair selected in a countywide election. The districts are mirrored on the county School Board.
After the 2011 redistricting, the county had an estimated 402,000 residents, and each district had about 57,000 constituents, according to data presented to the board in January. The Brentsville District, which covers the southwestern part of the county, had the largest population with 60,162. Neabsco, in the east-central part of the county, was the smallest at 54,920.
Although 2020 U.S. Census data is not complete, based on November estimates, the county’s population had grown to more than 471,000 residents, and the districts had grown to an average of 67,000 constituents.
The redistricting criteria say the districts will be as equal in population as possible and that precincts will not be split between districts. It also pledges to keep the districts “politically fair.”
Supervisors said the contractor can return with proposed lines that keep the seven existing districts as well as a plan that adds an eighth district, while not committing to adding the new seat.
Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Yesli Vega, R-Coles, said they are not in favor of a new district, while Wheeler supported it. Supervisors Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, and Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, said they want more information on a new district before making a determination.
Earlier in the meeting, the board unanimously provided the school division with $87.8 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan relief bill. The action does not determine how the money will be used and was a procedural measure.