After hearing from about 80 people who voiced nearly universal opposition to the proposed Devlin Technology Park due to concerns about living near a “noisy concrete jungle,” the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted unanimously early Wednesday morning to defer until March 7 a decision on the new data center campus slated for Bristow.
The decision came just after 3 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, after more than five hours of public comment during which only a handful of speakers – all representatives of regional trade unions – voiced support for developer Stanley Martin’s request to rezone 270 acres at Devlin and Linton Hall roads for a new data center campus of up to 14 buildings.
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, made the motion to defer the vote after supervisors spent more than 90 minutes after the public hearing discussing ideas aimed at mitigating the impacts of the new data centers on several surrounding communities.
The project is slated for undeveloped land near Amberleigh Station, Silver Leaf Estates, Lanier Farms, Sheffield Manor, Crossman’s Creek and Victory Lakes. The property abuts Chris Yung Elementary School and is within about a mile of several other schools, including Piney Branch Elementary, Gainesville Middle and Gainesville High School.
Boddye asked Stanley Martin to double its buffers between the data center property and nearby residential properties and schools from 100 to 200 feet in an effort to shield schools and residents from noise from the data center complex.
Boddye then suggested that the new data centers be limited to only the portion of the 270-acre parcel that lies west of a future extension of University Boulevard. That idea was an effort to use the road to further separate the data centers from the homes and Chris Yung Elementary School. Stanley Martin is seeking to rezone the area from “planned mixed residential” to light industrial, a designation that would allow for data centers.
But those discussions, which began at about 1:30 a.m., broke down amid questions about how such changes would alter the existing "master zoning plan" for the property, which was approved in 2020 and allows for 516 single-family homes.
“That’s the problem when you try to cobble something together at 2 in the morning,” said Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, whose district includes the area.
Lawson and Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, noted that Boddye was effectively proposing a smaller rezoning. Further discussion determined Boddye’s plan could result in a mix of about 135 homes and an undetermined number of data center buildings.
Lawson noted the change would require a complete rewrite of the proffer agreements, or legally binding conditions, associated with both the previous and current rezoning applications, which was later confirmed by county attorney Michelle Robl.
Lawson also refused to agree to any amount of data centers in the area, calling them “unacceptable” to the residents who showed up in force to speak against the data center complex during the public hearing.
“The community absolutely wants to keep it all residential,” Lawson said. “I don’t believe what Supervisor Boddye is proposing is what the Brentsville District wants. They want it all residential.”
Wheeler said she believes rezoning the area for data centers is “a compromise” since area residents have long resisted more housing in Bristow. Back in 2013, the area was slated to become a massive residential development known as “Stone Haven," which at one time proposed about 1,600 new homes. After that plan died amid resident opposition, the supervisors included part of the area in the county’s “data center opportunity zone overlay district," which was adopted in 2016, and then rezoned another 200 nearby acres for data centers in 2021.
New data centers could be coming to a nearly 200-acre property in Bristow previously planned…
“How did we get here? Because people didn’t want housing,” Wheeler said. “Part of it was that they just didn’t want anything there because they didn’t want changes.”
Lawson replied that residents resisted Stone Haven at a time when roads and schools were already overcrowded due to a spurt in residential growth. Now, Lawson said, residents are open to more housing given the opening of additional schools in the Linton Hall corridor as well as road improvements.
“We heard from multiple teachers. We heard from school counselors. We heard from HOA presidents. We heard from a police officer,” Lawson said of the public hearing testimony in opposition to the industrial data center corridor.
“We heard from emotional parents with … children that have disabilities, kids with migraines, sensory issues," she added. "They spoke with their legitimate concerns about what a data center complex might do to their families.”
Lawson made the first motion to defer the vote, which she then withdrew to allow her fellow supervisors to ask additional questions.
After more back and forth, Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, declared the shifting rezoning application “a mess.”
Lawson acknowledged that she initially was open to allowing data centers in the area but has since changed her mind given the ongoing issue with data center noise and the size of the buildings Stanley Martin is proposing.
"This is the tipping point for me," Lawson said. "The applicant has not been able to meet the satisfaction of the people I represent. And with that, I'm just not able to support a project of data centers there, and I move for denial for that reason."
Lawson's motion was seconded by Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, but the motion died in a 2-5 party-line vote with only Vega and Lawson voting in favor while the board’s Democratic supervisors, Boddye, Wheeler and Supervisors Victor Angry (Neabsco), Andrea Bailey (Potomac) and Margaret Franklin (Woodbridge), voted against it.
Finally, Wheeler asked Boddye to offer his compromise, which seemed an attempt to revive the idea of rezoning a smaller area for data centers.
But Boddye switched gears and proposed his own deferral, saying the board still has work to do on several issues, including whether Stanley Martin’s promise to keep the future data centers from violating the county’s noise ordinance for residential areas can be enforced.
The application includes a novel but complicated proffer involving noise that proposes hiring a third-party contractor, at the expense of the future data center operator, to conduct noise studies before and after the buildings are constructed and to deal with any noise complaints.
Chuck Cross of Warrenton and Jeb Benedict of Middleburg did not know each other before they …
Stanley Martin is not building the data centers but rather trying to rezone the land to sell it to a data center developer, said Truett Young, the company’s vice president for Northern Virginia land acquisitions. That means that an entity other than Stanley Martin would have to carry out the promise.
Data center noise has become a huge issue since complaints surfaced last summer about an Amazon Web Service complex of four data centers recently built near the Great Oak subdivision outside Manassas.
Lawson repeatedly voiced doubts about the noise proffer, noting that the county staff report raised questions about whether the county had the staff or the expertise to enforce it.
“We can spin it all we want, but the reality is, these are proffers that have never been tested,” Lawson said earlier in the meeting.
Boddye seemed to agree with that position when he made his motion to defer the vote.
“We don’t know completely where we are with this noise issue,” he said. “I hesitate to go full bore into this, knowing we don’t know what we don’t know. … I want to move now to defer this so we have a chance to work collaboratively to get a handle on this.”
Wheeler said the board should defer the vote to a “date certain” and initially suggested taking the matter up again as soon as next week. But Boddye and Lawson pushed back on that idea, saying that wouldn’t allow enough time.
In the end, the board agreed to defer the vote until Tuesday, March 7.
The timing will allow the board to seat a new Gainesville District supervisor, who will be named after an upcoming Feb. 21 special election. The seat is vacant due to the December resignation of former supervisor Pete Candland, who resigned due to conflict-of-interest issues after signing a contract to sell his own home and land to a data center involved in the Prince William Digital Gateway development.
The lack of a Gainesville District supervisor was a main point of contention among residents who came out to oppose the Devlin Technology Park. About 50 residents staged a protest along Prince William Parkway at 5 p.m. on Tuesday night and then held a press conference with a giant banner reading: “SAVE BRISTOW FROM DATA CENTERS.”
Residents pleaded with the board throughout the public hearing to deny the plan, which some called “ridiculous,” “heartbreaking” and “insane.”
Josh Atkinson, a resident of Sheffield Manor, said he and his neighbors would rather Stanley Martin build homes instead of data centers.
“I would much rather hear kids laughing and the sound of a neighborhood than the sound of a generator,” he said.
Kevin Smith, the president of the Sheffield Manor homeowners association, said the community’s 2,000 residents are “firmly opposed” to the rezoning.
“Leaders do not compromise with wrong, and this proposal is wrong,” Smith said. “Anything less than an unanimous vote to deny the proposal is a neglect of duty and a misuse of office against the residents of the Brentsville District. Prince William County is not a for-profit county. Prince William County is for residents.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, made a motion to deny the rezoning. The motion to deny was made by Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville. The Times regrets the error.
Anya Sczerzenie contributed to this report. Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.