One of the developers behind the PW Digital Gateway proposal is seeking more than $150,000 from a landowner along Pageland Lane for not signing rezoning documents quickly enough.
The convoluted and secretive legal saga involves a subsidiary of QTS Realty Trust Inc., landowner Barbara Brower and her son, Jon, and Mary Ann Ghadban, a leader of the push to designate the area for data centers.
The PW Digital Gateway is a proposed amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and two rezoning requests to allow up to 27 million square feet of data centers on roughly 2,100 acres along Pageland Lane in western Prince William County.
It has quickly become the most controversial and contentious local land-use proposal in decades. Opponents and proponents have launched personal attacks against each other, and it has spawned recall efforts against Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland and Board Chair Ann Wheeler and a federal lawsuit against Candland.
QTS and Compass Datacenters are seeking rezonings to develop the area. The Comprehensive Plan amendment is scheduled to go before the Board of County Supervisors on Nov. 1 and, if approved, would weigh heavily in favor of the rezonings.
The legal battle began in March around the time QTS filed its rezoning application to the county.
QTS filed a breach of contract lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 8 against the Browers and Pageland LLC, which the Browers used as the owner of part of their 140.9 acres at 5211 and 5305 Pageland Lane.
QTS cited a section of the purchase agreement that says the sellers will cooperate with the rezoning, “including promptly signing such documents as may be required in connection with obtaining such approval.”
QTS says it provided the rezoning documents to the Browers on Feb. 19 with a deadline for them to be returned with signatures by Feb. 28. The company said the Browers did not sign the documents despite “multiple attempts” to get their signature.
The company still submitted its application, but the county flagged it and said the documents wouldn’t be processed without the signatures.
QTS said the Browers were holding out because “they believe they can obtain higher sales prices” for their property and are trying to “extort … a bigger payday.”
Over the summer, the court ordered the Browers to sign the documents, which they did.
Before being forced to sign, the Browers filed a countersuit against QTS and Ghadban. The countersuit is sealed, and the details are only publicly referenced in QTS’ response to it and later filings by the Browers.
According to QTS documents, the countersuit alleged that Ghadban had an agreement with the company to receive a higher sales price for her property if she would get other landowners in the area to sell for less than their land is worth.
Ghadban denies that she had any such agreement with QTS.
The Browers later claimed that Ghadban had multiple offers for their properties and pushed the QTS proposal over one that was for more money. They claim the other proposal amounted to a difference of $4.6 million and was allegedly from Chuck Kuhn, a wealthy Northern Virginia landowner and the founder of JK Moving.
QTS’ characterization of the countersuit was that it included claims of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, interference with contract and “unjust enrichment.”
QTS called the claims “a tale out of whole cloth in a last-ditch effort to avoid the clear and unambiguous terms they agreed to” and said the allegations “ignore reality and create an alternate universe where logic does not apply.”
Despite getting the Browers to sign the rezoning documents, QTS is still seeking $150,000 plus damages to be determined at trial for the delay.
In response, the Browers have asserted that they were taken advantage of by sophisticated individuals. Jon Brower says his mother has dementia and he only has a high school education.
“Mary Ann Ghadban is a sophisticated real estate broker that engaged in self-dealing and a series of deceptive acts to convince Jon Sanders Brower to sell his century-old family property significantly below its value,” the Browers’ filing said.
QTS says that the new claim is an “attempt to manufacture sympathy by casting themselves as inexperienced and unsophisticated,” despite the Browers having legal representation during the negotiations.
Many of the documents submitted to the court are sealed or heavily redacted. However, the available portions offer a small glimpse into the mechanisms driving the project.
One section of the purchase agreement requires all sellers to “actively and fully support and cooperate with Purchaser, using commercially reasonable, diligent and good faith efforts, in pursuing and obtaining the approval of the Data Center Rezoning.”
Many of those who have publicly spoken in favor of the project have been landowners. At the marathon Planning Commission public hearing last month, at least 57 of the 84 people who supported the project could be verified as landowners. Those opposed to the project have said that the ratio is much higher.
The lawsuit is scheduled for a jury trial Nov. 29.