The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will consider a proposal Tuesday to resurrect the bi-county parkway and expand the county’s data center overlay district as part of an economic development plan aimed at boosting a local economy struggling amid the COVID-19 epidemic.
The recommendations are included in a larger $6 million package proposed by the county’s Department of Economic Development and its Economic Recovery Task Force to aid the county’s economic recovery. The task force, created in April, consists of 42 business leaders representing a wide range of industries, as well as representatives from the county’s business partners, according to a county staff report.
The task force is recommending several programs be funded from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security(CARES) Act. The task force is also recommending additional nonmonetary and policy proposals to help aid Prince William’s economic recovery, including adding the bi-county parkway back into the comprehensive plan and expanding the county’s data center overlay district.
“The Infrastructure Committee identified ... large transportation projects such as the bi-county parkway and fast ferry as critical infrastructure to be reincluded into the comprehensive plan,” county staff wrote.
The bi-county parkway is a proposed 10.4-mile, north-south road that would connect Prince William County and the City of Manassas with Loudoun County and the Dulles Corridor. The bi-county parkway is proposed to extend Va. 234 north from its interchange with Interstate 66 to U.S. 50 in Loudoun County.
County staff wrote that the purpose of the parkway is to “establish a north-south transportation route to connect Dulles Airport with Prince William County’s employment centers.”
“This would open up opportunities for new commercial development and would be seen by prospective new tenants as an advantageous location due to its proximity to the Dulles Airport, the I-66 Corridor, and Ashburn, which houses the ‘hub’ of the internet,” county staff said.
The parkway, estimated to cost about $400 million, is controversial and was removed from Prince William County’s comprehensive plan in 2016 on a 4-3 vote, with former Chair Corey Stewart absent from the vote. Current board Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, were among the four supervisors that voted to remove the parkway from the plan. The other votes came from former supervisors Ruth Anderson and Maureen Caddigan, both Republicans.
The resolution the board will consider would authorize the “county executive to take all necessary actions and execute all necessary documents to implement these programs and direct the county executive to investigate specific policies suggested by the Economic Recovery Task Force as directed by the Board of County Supervisors.”
The Economic Recovery Task Force is also recommending that the county expand its data center overlay district. The overlay district was first adopted in 2015 to promote development of data centers within areas of the county where existing infrastructure, like high-transmission power lines, are available to support them.
The bulk of the data center overlay district is located along Va. 234 between the City of Manassas and Interstate 66. It was announced last August that the county had reached 5 million square feet of data centers space.
County staff wrote that the pandemic has resulted in more online shopping and virtual communication, a new phenomenon known as the “Zoom boom.” As a result, the demand for data centers will increase, they said, and “the county needs more available real estate development-ready land to be competitive.”
“Data centers are a major source of commercial tax revenue that support the county’s schools, parks and recreation, and community and social services. Unfortunately, economically viable land within the current data center opportunity zone overlay district is shrinking rapidly. To continue to attract data centers, expanding the data center overlay zone is recommended by the Infrastructure Committee,” county staff said.
In addition to policy proposals not needing immediate funding, staff is recommending that $6 million in CARES Act be spent on economic initiatives, including $5 million the county board has already allocated. The money would be used for real estate development incentives, new business start-up grants, money for small business technical assistance and workforce reskilling and transition, among other things.
By law, the county must spend the $41 million it received in CARES Act money by Dec. 30. The county has so far not shared any of the funding with the Prince William County School Board, despite two requests made in recent months.
The coronavirus pandemic has slammed Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, resulting in a spike in unemployment. The county’s unemployment rate climbed from 2.2% in February 2020 to 11.4% in late April, according to the county staff report.
County staff estimated that less than 70% of lost jobs, those employing approximately 16,100 workers, will be reinstated by the end of 2020.
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