Copy of Page 14 Opinion Editorial Data Centers.jpg

This photo, taken from a drone in February, shows a few of the 25 million square feet of data centers that have been built in the Ashburn area of Loudoun County.

If you want to see what western Prince William County might look like in 20 years, drive north on Route 28, just past Dulles International Airport. Take the Waxpool Road (Route 625) flyover exit, which goes over southbound 28 and look around you.  As far as the eye can see are monolithic buildings in various shades of gray with huge air-conditioners on top.

Those two- and three-story buildings are among the 25-million-plus square feet of data centers that have been built in the Ashburn area of Loudoun County over the past 10 years. Have they contributed to the county budget, helping to keep taxes lower for residents? Yes, according to most indications. But at what cost? Has the additional tax revenue been worth the loss of trees and greenery? Has it been worth potential impacts on air and water quality that may not be known for decades?  And has it been worth creating what, quite frankly, are eyesores?

Those are among the questions the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will have to ask over the next few months as it considers a proposal to change the county’s comprehensive plan to target data center development on 2,100 acres along bucolic Pageland Lane, north of Interstate 66. Already two data center developers have filed large rezoning requests for portions of that land. 

The PW Digital Gateway proposal has already been discussed at numerous board meetings and on these pages. That debate is only going to get more intense as the supervisors’ vote nears. For not only will this decision chart the county’s course for decades to come, but it also will likely be the top issue when the entire board is up for re-election next year.

And it has created some strange bedfellows. Among those opposed to expanding the district are Democratic Del. Danica Roem and Republican Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, who are about as far apart on the political spectrum as possible.

Among those who support the plan are a group of Pageland residents who passionately (and successfully) opposed previous developments in the area, including Disney’s America in the 1990s and, more recently, construction of a Bi-County Parkway.

Indeed, opponents have gone so far as to file recall petitions against two board members – one from each party. Republican Pete Candland is targeted because he lives on Pageland and is among landowners seeking the change – thus meaning he can’t vote on the plan that affects his district more than any other. And Democratic Chair Ann Wheeler owned stock in several companies tied to the data center industry.

So as the debate heats up, here are a few questions we think members of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors and, ultimately, the voters of Prince William should be asking:

  • What happens to data centers when the amount of data that today requires hundreds of computer servers can fit on a device the size of a smartphone?

  • What additional electric transmission lines will be necessary to accommodate more data centers?

  • What roads will need to be built or widened to accommodate construction traffic?

  • What long-term impacts do all those cooling units have on air quality?

  • What long-term impacts do the huge impervious surfaces of data centers have on water quality?

  • What consideration should board members give to the fact that the supervisor who represents the district that will be most affected can’t participate in the vote?

Finally, it’s worth noting that Prince William already has about 10,000 acres in its data center overlay district. That represents almost 5% of all land in the county – a higher percentage if you back out undevelopable land that is part of Marine Corps Base Quantico, the Prince William Forest Park, and the Manassas National Battlefield.  

That’s enough land to accommodate 33.4 million square feet of data centers, according to a report prepared for the county. That should satisfy demand through this decade and into the next and is more square feet than currently is built out in Loudoun – considered the data center capital of the world. (Indeed, Loudoun supervisors have started to push back against designating additional land for data centers.)

That means the biggest question the Prince William board should ask is this: How many data centers are enough? And will the extra tax revenue they generate add to the county’s quality of life enough to offset the potential negative impacts?

We hope supervisors will consider these questions carefully, seek informed, unbiased answers and not just vote along party lines. Because this is an issue that transcends politics. It will determine what we want to be as a community. Are we in a race to be the data center capital of the world? Or are some things more important than money?  

(9) comments

Janet Smith

[thumbdown] See any solar panels on any of the buildings or anywhere else in the photo?

Greg Gorham

Only a bunch of bumkins would switch from a rural area that many homeowners bought into, to this abomination next to the historical preserve, the Manassas National Battlefield Park. It is a classic bait and switch. The previous park superintendent calls this data center proposal the worst threat the park has ever faced. That is saying a lot given the Hazel development on Groveton, Disney, BiCounty parkway, shifting construction of I66 to the south rather than follow the Rt 29 path thru the battlefield.

Bill Wright

Bravo to Inside NOVA for its excellent summation of the folly of the Prince William Digital Gateway.

Thorough though they were, the editorial board politely side-stepped the principal motivation relentlessly driving this proposal forward: GREED. Corporate greed, developer greed, realtor greed, attorney greed, landowner greed, political greed and even charitable greed. Every unscrupulous parasite who thinks they can squeeze a nickel out of the misfortune of their neighbor has angled for their spot at the trough, shamelessly wielding dubious arguments and shady influences.

I watched the July 27th the Planning Commission meeting from home. Doing so allowed me to note every speaker in favor of the Prince William Digital Gateway. Without exception, they were landowners who stood to personally profit from the proposal. If the proposal is passed, all of them will vacate the area and many will leave the county they express such munificent fondness for. There was scant mention of the environmental devastation they will leave in their wake for their neighbors.

I looked up their land holdings in the county’s property tax database and multiplied the acreages by the $910,000 per acre the data center developer is told to be offering for these properties. The proceeds from the sale of their properties ranged from a low of over $4.5 million to a high of over $16.3 million. The average haul per homeowner would be over $10 million.

Let me state that succinctly. EVERY speaker in favor of the Prince William Digital Gateway stands to reap at least $4.5 million from its passage. Now THAT’S a dedicated following. Dedicated, yes. Objective, no.

But these folks are merely taking advantage of a situation set up for them by much bigger fish. These data center companies are multi-billion-dollar corporations. Their sole allegiance is to increasing their wealth and influence. The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has laid the welcome mat so wide for these corporate buccaneers that we are in danger of surrendering our very sovereignty to them. When we become so beholden to corporations with no concern for the welfare of our citizens, we are in danger of having our priorities hijacked.

I hope our elected officials who seem so intoxicated by developer dollars drink some strong coffee before foolishly selling us all down the river. John F. Kennedy said: “Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside”.

Asad Safdar

If it is so bad to have data centers, why is that house prices are much higher in Ashburn as compared to Gainesville? Please leave my comment there as others. Do not delete. I am asking a fair question.

Asad Safdar

if it is so bad to have data centers, why is that Ashburn house prices are much higher as compared to Gainesville?

Karen Sheehan

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Saying it like it is and meaning it! This is what SO MANY county citizens have been crying from their rooftops, their Facebook posts, their 3 min. time at the BOCS, their emails and their conversations across communities - for months, for years. And now Dominion Energy declares publicly that there isn't enough power for all the approved and proposed data centers! https://protectpwc.org/2022/07/28/loudoun-now-dominion-warns-of-power-crunch-for-new-ashburn-data-centers/

You have asked the right questions. Enough, is enough. These issues do transcend politics - this is civic: people protecting their families, their quality of life, the futures of their children. Greed and money have to be stopped from winning out. Get your signature on these civic recalls NOW! Go to ProtectPWC.org. Let's make sure this county redirects - and EVERYONE benefits.

Joe Normandy

Lets face facts, you wont be able to keep, since the landowner wont be able to afford the taxes, the land a unfarmed farm land, those days are gone.

So us the answer 7000 new homes with their sewer abd water demands? What about 7000 HVAC units and inground oil or above ground propane tanks? Dont forget new schools, employees, fire, police, stores, roads...or do you plan on insisting that the current homeowners keep their land, their investment as is while you go about your business?

Loudoun gets 70% of their revenue from these quiet centers of business while Prince William gets more the 70% of its revenue from homeowners...what?

Diversify, support the quiet centers of business, where a builder fixes the roads, where the powerlines already exist and support landowners who want to adjust their lifestyle by utilizing their land...their land, not yours.

Of course I suspect you can buy the land yourself and keep it as you desire while paying the increasing taxes...but you wont will you?

Ed Moseley

This editorial asks good questions. You are assuming the answers aren’t the ones you would like.

Compromising our entire County so a few may get very wealthy very fast isn’t one of the good answers.

Ed Pa

You keep using the word quiet. These things are not quiet. There is a small data center across from Walmart in Haymarket and the hum is constant. The generator tests are less quiet. If you walk round Leopold's preserve, it the main thing you hear.

Data centers are valuable and necessary but not next to the battlefield.

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