Prince William County Planning Commission Considers PW Digital Gateway Data Center Proposal | Securities

The PW Digital Gateway has had its first public scrutiny by Prince William County officials, but its fate remains murky as some officials keep their opinions close to the chest.

The Planning Commission held a working session on the proposal on Wednesday, the first for the bid.

Last summer, landowners along Pageland Lane have submitted an application to change the land designation of their properties in the overall plan from agricultural zoning to technological zoning for the PW digital gateway.

The Supervisory Board later expanded the application to cover 2,100 acreswhich could pave the way for 27.6 million square feet of data centers, nearly as much data center space as is currently in use or under construction in neighboring Loudoun County, the largest concentration of such facilities in the world.

The project quickly became the most contentious and contentious local land use proposal in decades. Opponents and supporters have launched personal attacks on each other, and this has spawned recall efforts against Gainesville supervisor Pete Candland and Board Chair Ann Wheeler.

Proponents of the PW digital gateway say it will provide a huge economic boom for the county in an area that is no longer rural. Opponents say these large developments would decimate the county’s rural character; they raised concerns about the availability of electricity, the effects on water quality, and the possibility that buildings could quickly become obsolete as technology continues to improve.

Earlier this month, county staff released a project regulation plan but stopped short of providing a recommendation. The draft plan calls for stricter regulations than those proposed by developers.

The staffing plan sets a hard limit of 27 million square feet of data centers across the zone and discourages other heavy industrial use.

County officials have pointed to the need to split some regulations between the North End and the South End, which is near Manassas Battlefield State Park and Conway Robinson State Forest.

Gainesville Commissioner Richard Berry, whose district includes the proposal, said the review “has been a very frustrating process for me, and I know that for many voters.”

The county is moving forward with the digital gateway while updating its overall plan and reviewing a potential expansion of the Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District.

“My preference is that we complete the global plan update first,” Berry said. “I think we look at these things backwards.”

Berry had “significant concerns” about allowing development in the southern part of the proposal.

“I don’t think it represents good planning to plan development in an area where there is cultural, environmental and historical sensitivity, like the southern section of this plan,” he said. “I personally don’t think this is a suitable area for development – commercial or residential.”

At the north end, building height would be limited to 85 feet with limited exceptions. Staff recommends limiting the height, with few exceptions, to 45 feet at the south end, with less floor space density.

The developers proposed 100 feet north and 65 feet south.

Brentsville Commissioner Tom Gordy said height restrictions could be ignored, noting some developers are already back in the county to get approval for taller buildings.

“The suit will be for something higher, and they have already demonstrated that even after it was approved at a lower height,” he said. “I think the best thing for us is to avoid this problem.”

The county’s proposed guidelines were based on testing what could be seen from certain areas of Manassas Battlefield State Park.

“It’s important to preserve these views as much as possible because these views tell you how the battles unfolded from the vantage point you’re standing on,” county archaeologist Justin Patton said. “When you walk through a battlefield or historic site, you feel like you’re there.”

Neabsco Commissioner Qwendolyn Brown asked about the impact of field of view and suggested that existing transmission lines were already harming views.

“I don’t know how it can get worse than that,” she said.

Patton said the lines “create visual impact,” but the county “proposes we still need to put in place mitigation strategies to salvage what we can.”

Throughout the corridor, the plan recommends 150ft buffers on all sides of the development, although Gordy said the northern part should have taller buffers to further protect the battlefield view.

The plan says businesses should be encouraged to use minimal water and implement sustainability initiatives.

At-Large Commissioner Patty Kuntz said the runoff will come less from data centers and more from existing farmland. She also repeated a talking point from fans who say the facilities would use less water than the Heritage Hunt golf course.

“From now on, farmers can water as much as they want and apply as much fertilizer as they want,” she said. “When and if data centers go into effect, they will have to work under the laws of environmental impact…So the runoff should be a lot less”

Kuntz also wondered if the regulations might “deter” developers from “creating the area they need to have a quality data center.”

Deputy planning director Meika Daus said the industry had expressed “concerns about this limitation”.

Many residents have expressed concern about the potential impacts of industry noise, although Berry said, “There are two data centers right next to the Freedom Center in George Mason [University] that I pass every day and hear nothing.

Berry said the county needs to “make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure this is minimized.”

Gordy and Berry asked for more information on the potential power requirements for the proposal and whether it would require additional infrastructure.

County staff will use feedback from the working session to create a second draft plan. Officials will not provide a recommendation until the application has gone through a public hearing.

Compass Data Centers and QTS Real Estate Trust Inc. have filed rezoning applications for the development. Their combined projects cover 1,636 acres and 18.42 million square feet of data center space, significantly less than the 27.6 million square feet advertised by the original application.

The county has not scheduled a public hearing on the comprehensive plan amendment or rezonings.

The Planning Commission took no public comment at its Wednesday meeting as it was strictly a working session.

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