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The countdown toward one of the most important decisions for the future of Prince William County, and the region as a whole, has begun. The Prince William County Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the Digital Gateway Comprehensive Plan Amendment this coming Wednesday, Sept. 14. The Commission will then make a recommendation, possibly the same night, to the Board of Supervisors, which will then hold its own public hearing before approving or denying this massive amendment to the County’s Comprehensive Plan.
What’s at Stake?
The Digital Gateway application proposes to designate nearly 2,100 acres in western Prince William County for up to 27.6 million square feet of data center space along Pageland Lane, converting the rural area beside Manassas National Battlefield to a complex of data centers larger than Data Center Alley near Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County. For scale, the average Walmart Supercenter is about 180,000 square feet. That means the equivalent of about 144 Walmart Supercenters will replace the farms and residential homes that are currently in the area. This is being proposed despite there being thousands of acres available in the County’s Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District and millions of square feet of data center development that has already been approved outside the Overlay District.
The negative impacts of this proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment are extensive, and Prince William County should deny it for the following reasons:
1. It would bring about a massive and costly expansion of electrical infrastructure
The incredible increase in power that will be needed to serve 27 million square feet of new data center space would almost certainly require transmission expansions along existing 230-kV and 500-kV transmission line corridors, as well as new rights-of-way through private properties. At full buildout, transmission lines would be needed across Pageland Lane to the land on its western side and substations would be required to serve the numerous buildings. The significant cost of these upgrades would fall to all Virginia ratepayers, not the data center companies requiring them.
2. It paves the way for a significant portion of the sprawl-inducing Outer Beltway
The amendment includes the widening of Pageland Lane from two lanes to a four-lane divided parkway and proposes a “connection between Pageland Lane to I-66 and Rte. 234 to provide a direct route to the Study Area [Digital Gateway].” If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is a major part of the Outer Beltway, a road long sought for by developers seeking to open up cheaper rural land for development.
Additional lanes will soon be congested with traffic; a County staff report projects traffic from the proposed change to the Technology/Flex land use designation could be 142,374 weekday daily trips over the existing 808 weekday daily trips on the road; and that does not include additional traffic that could be induced by the proposed direct connection with I-66!
3. It would pollute drinking water supplied by the Occoquan watershed
The development impact of this amendment could result in a significant increase in sediment and other stormwater runoff pollution into the Occoquan Reservoir, including sodium and other salt-related constituents that the Fairfax County Water Authority is unable to filter from drinking water. In a March 21 letter to the County, Fairfax Water said, “given the historic investment and achievements already made by the watershed community over the preceding five decades to improve and protect the Reservoir as a vital drinking water resource, and the magnitude of the Planning initiatives under consideration by Prince William County, a study through the Occoquan Basin Policy Board utilizing the Model is an essential input to the land use decision process.”
Although the Board of Supervisors has OK’d a water study, it is not waiting on the results before voting on the Digital Gateway amendment. This is negligent of their responsibility to 800,000 residents in Prince William County and beyond who rely on the Occoquan watershed for drinking water.
4. It would greatly diminish historical and recreational resources
Manassas National Battlefield Park brings in ~500,000 annual visitors who generate over $20 million in local sales, according to a 2015 study. Annual visitation to the park and visitor experience would be directly, and negatively, affected by industrial land uses around the park. Data centers are completely closed to the public and do nothing to support additional tourism or lengthen the stay of visitors to the area. Instead, the industrial aesthetic and additional traffic projected along Pageland Lane will diminish the tourism experience and likely discourage tourism to this site overall. Historic and cultural resources that up until now have been preserved by the rural character of the area could be lost or impacted forever, including cemeteries and hallowed ground where the Battle of Second Manassas was fought.
Public Hearing Details
The Planning Commission public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the County’s administrative complex at 1 County Complex Court in Woodbridge. At 6 p.m., prior to the public hearing, the coalition of organizations working to protect Prince William County, including PEC, is holding a press conference in front of the building. Please come join us, and plan to speak at the Planning Commission to share your position on this issue.
We stand with residents of Prince William County, organizations like the Prince William Conservation Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, American Battlefield Trust, and Coalition for Smarter Growth, as well as the numerous local and state agencies who have expressed concerns such as Fairfax Water, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and the Virginia Department of Forestry in urging the county not to abandon its vision for Prince William’s Rural Crescent with an approval of this Comprehensive Plan Amendment.
We need your support, now more than ever. Thank you and please reach out with any questions or concerns.
Julie Bolthouse, AICP
Director of Land Use
(540) 347-2334 x7042