The Prince William Board of Supervisors voted last week to move forward with the Prince William Digital Gateway Plan, which seeks to rezone over 2,000 acres of land adjacent to the Manassas Battlefield Park to allow for development of data centers.
The project has been a topic of heated debate and protest in the area leading up to this decision, and concerned citizens from both sides of the debate showed up to share their thoughts. The board’s vote came after a marathon of public comment spanning over nine hours.
Opponents voiced their concerns that the redevelopment will cause harm to the surrounding environment through high energy use and water runoff, and would negatively impact the area surrounding the Battlefield Park, introducing viewshed, noise, and increased traffic to what was formerly a rural area.
Meanwhile, advocates for the plan expressed belief that bringing in data centers would provide an economic boom for the county, and argued that the land use should be reevaluated as the area is no longer truly rural.
So what does the plan actually do? The Comprehensive Plan Amendment will impact the land use designation for 194 parcels of land stretching between Route 29 and Sudley Road. The area was previously designated as a mix of Agricultural/Estate and Environmental Resource, designations which limit how densely the land can be developed. The plan proposed to change those designations to a mixture of Technology/Flex, Parks/Open Space, and County Historic Registered Site. 1,321.5 acres will be designated as Technology/Flex, the area which data centers can inhabit.
While the plan allows for this redesignation, it also sets forth a series of guidelines for what can and cannot be developed there in the future, with considerations for things like the environmental and cultural impact of the development. One such limitation is to establish the need for open spaces (the plan notes that their goal is to maintain 30 percent of the study area as natural open space) and to limit the amount of space that can actually be developed, with a cap of 27 million square feet.
Some other guidelines included in the plan are an emphasis on reducing viewshed the Battlefield Park; placing restrictions on noise levels, particularly at night; encouraging the use of closed-water-loop systems to prevent problems from water runoff; and attempting to preserve a certain level of natural green space in the area.
This approval is not a full green-light for data centers to start moving in right away. This amendment to the plan sets the framework for what future developments should do, but each individual project will need to seek approval from the board before they can begin development.
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