Few issues have polarized our community in recent years as much as Prince William County’s proposed seismic shift in land-use policy, particularly around data center development – a shift that will fundamentally change the county.
In that regard, the number of data centers that have come to the public’s attention in recent weeks has been breathtaking.
I support the efforts of the county to diversify its tax base and appreciate that a diversified tax base will provide more funding to our schools and much-needed tax relief to Prince William residents. In fact, I support building data centers in Prince William.
But whether to build data centers is not the question. The real question is where.
As a member of the Prince William School Board, I have been contacted by many people expressing concern about the explosion of data centers near schools, neighborhoods and open space. The concerns brought to me are not political. The concerns are inherently practical, and many residents believe that the concerns they have voiced to their elected county leaders have gone unheard.
I am concerned that our community is under-informed about where the county has approved data centers, especially the prospect of 110-foot tall data centers a mere 50 feet from our schools. The concern is especially acute with respect to planned data center development near Tyler Elementary, PACE West, Piney Branch Elementary, Chris Yung Elementary, Ellis Elementary and Unity Reed and Gainesville high schools and in those schools’ surrounding neighborhoods.
I question the rush to broaden the county’s Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District. County leadership have provided no explanation for the expedited nature of this push, other than that the county desperately wants the additional tax revenue.
If the concern is about filling county coffers, then before expanding data center zones the county should (1) build out the original overlay district and (2) double the data center tax rate, resulting in a rate that would still be 20% less than the Loudoun County rate while preserving existing greenspace surrounding our schools and neighborhoods.
Again, the issue is not whether to build the data centers, but where. In the mad scramble that has been the data center gold rush over the past year, I fear that our county leadership has not considered the potential impact these data centers may have on students and schools, especially those closest to the proposed data centers.
I urge the Board of County Supervisors to take a breath and delay rezoning and site-plan approvals until a full evaluation and assessment of the short-term and long-term impacts of data center development can be made.
Jennifer Wall represents the Gainesville District on the Prince William County School Board.