Prince William County supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to take the first step toward creating a nearly 800-acre data center campus, called the “PWC Digital Gateway” by its supporters, in the county’s designated rural area.
Twelve landowners who live on Pageland Lane in Manassas filed a request for a comprehensive plan amendment in May asking the county to redesignate their collective 792 acres of agricultural land to allow up to 21 million square feet of new data centers. If the amendment is approved, their properties’ land-use designations would be changed from agricultural to “tech/flex” to allow for such development.
The supervisors will take a vote on Tuesday, July 20, on whether to initiate a study of the comprehensive plan amendment. The move would allow county planners to examine the proposal before they bring it back to the planning commission and board of supervisors for their review at a later date.
If the supervisors ultimately approve the amendment, landowners would still need rezonings and special-use permits before data centers could be built on their properties
The properties are located along a 3-mile stretch of Pageland Lane between Va. 29 and Sudley Road. Several border the Manassas National Battlefield Park, the Conway Robinson State Forest and the Heritage Hunt community.
All the properties are in the county’s “rural crescent,” a land-use designation the county created in 1998 to slow suburban sprawl. The rural crescent zoning rules allow only one home to be built per 10 acres and do not allow for any data center development by-right.
The property owners, many who have lived there for decades, say the area is no longer rural because of increased development nearby and because Pageland Lane has become a commuter cut-through that causes backups at the traffic lights along Pageland Lane at intersections at U.S. 29 and Sudley Road.
They also claim the area is well-suited for data center development because of its proximity to a major Dominion Energy transmission line built in 2008 that traverses several of the properties, its proximity to data centers in Loudoun County and access to nearby fiber optic internet infrastructure.
“We have experienced firsthand the negative impacts that have resulted from the transformation of a wholly rural environment to the present-day situation,” the property owners wrote in their application.
The applicants also cite the potential county tax revenue that could be generated by such a development. Data centers represent an ever-increasing share of the county’s commercial tax base, generating $64 million in local tax revenue in 2020 alone.
The plan has garnered support from many of the applicants' neighbors. As of Sunday, more than 70 residents who live on Pageland Lane and on adjacent streets have signed a petition asking the board to approve the plan, according to the applicant.
Additionally, a dozen other landowners who live in the Dominique Estates neighborhood along Pageland Lane filed a separate land-use change request in May also asking the county to allow data centers on their properties. It remains to be seen whether other landowners in the area will do the same if the board moves forward with the initiation of the "digital gateway" plan.
Those opposed to any move to replan the area for data centers include Supervisor Pete Candland, whose Gainesville District encompasses the properties, as well as conservation groups and some nearby residents. The Manassas National Battlefield Park expressed its reservations in a letter to the county board from park Superintendent Brandon Bies.
Christopher Leet, who lives in a nearby subdivision on Robin Drive, said he is “quite distressed that the ‘rural crescent’ is being proposed to be disrupted in this manner.”
“I see no benefit for the people living in this area, but certainly huge disruption to the rural life which the [board of county supervisors] had promised us many years ago,” Leet wrote in a June 29 letter to the board of supervisors.
Candland, R-Gainesville, lives just off of Pageland Lane less than a mile from the site of the proposed data centers. Candland, first elected in 2011, has been a longtime proponent of preserving rural crescent zoning restrictions.
In an email to his constituents late last week, he acknowledged his neighbors’ concerns about their property values but said he cannot support opening Pageland Lane to new data centers.
“I know almost all of the folks who are now saying they want to sell their property to the data centers and would consider many of them to be close friends. These are good families, many of which have been in Prince William County for generations. I understand their concern that if the board approves a couple of locations along Pageland, then their property value might significantly go down and they would be stuck looking at data centers out their back door. So, they have decided to back the data center plan in the hope that they aren’t left out in the cold,” Candland wrote.
“This is why I believe we must take a definitive stance and not allow any data centers into the Rural Crescent. Because once we do, we will have to be fair to other landowners and open it up to them also. It will be the ultimate slippery slope of losing our rural and historic areas,” he added.
A group of local, regional and national conservation groups will hold a press conference outside the board chambers at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, ahead of the supervisors’ 7:30 p.m. meeting, to address the proposal. Those groups include the National Parks Conservation Association, Prince William Conservation Alliance and the Piedmont Environmental Council, among others.
“Conservation advocates are strongly opposed to recent proposals to rezone land to build massive data centers within the Prince William County’s protected rural area, known as the rural crescent,” the groups wrote in a press release. “... The proposed data centers and the infrastructure necessary to build them threaten our national parks, natural resources, the county’s agricultural economy, tourism and cultural heritage.”
Bies, superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park, stated his concerns in a July 17 email to the board of county supervisors.
“It is vitally important that much of the western and northern boundary of Manassas National Battlefield Park is encompassed by the county’s ‘rural area,’” Bies wrote. “For the last two decades, this protection has been critical in preserving the historic viewsheds and rural character along much of the park’s boundary.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org