Prince William County officials are likely to vote in favor of the controversial Prince William Digital Gateway project, after planning staff recommended it be approved.

Approval could pave the way to rezone more than 2,000 acres and allow for up to 27.6 million square feet of data centers.

First reported by InsideNoVa, Prince William County planning staff are recommending county officials approve the proposed PW Digital Gateway.

PW Digital Gateway.png
– Prince William County Planning Commission

“The Prince William County Planning Commission does hereby recommend that the Board of County Supervisors adopt Comprehensive Plan Amendment #CPA2021-00004, PW Digital Gateway to the Board of County Supervisors,” reads a recently published Planning Commission Resolution.

The staff report was prepared for the Planning Commission’s Sept. 14 public hearing on the project and was uploaded on Friday ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The approval would change the area’s comprehensive plan, paving the way for rezoning requests and eventually planning permission for data centers.

Reports of a PWC Digital Gateway surfaced last year. Originally reports had the development billed as a proposal for an 800-acre development; the proposal aimed to string together 30 parcels of agricultural land owned by 15 property owners to be developed by a single unnamed data center developer, later revealed as QTS.

However, as more than 200 landowners have elected to join the proposal along Pageland Lane, the PW Digital Gateway plan has expanded. The current proposal would replan 2,133 acres of the county's "rural crescent" for data centers. Approval could pave the way for up to 27.6 million square feet of data centers.

However, even if the Gateway plan was approved, individual developments would still need planning and rezoning permission; data center developments outside the county’s designated ‘Data Center Overlay Zone’ also need special permission.

Compass and QTS are known to be involved in the project, looking to rezone and develop on around 800 acres each. Compass wants to build 10.5 million square feet of data centers by 2030, while QTS is looking to develop around 8 million sq ft of data centers.

The two projects combine to cover 1,636 acres and 18.42 million square feet of data centers, meaning another ~500 acres/9 million sq ft of data centers have yet to be publicly claimed. Previous reports suggest ‘half a dozen’ developers were interested in the original 800-acre proposal, so the land may already be earmarked by one or several companies who are yet to file for rezoning.

The proposals have drawn sharp rebuke from local residents and officials, who have voiced concerns over inviting large amounts of new development to a mostly rural area and worry about the potential impact the rezoning could have on the nearby Manassas National Battlefield and other local historical sites as well as the local water table and rural nature of the area.

Opponents and proponents have launched personal attacks against each other, and it has spawned recall efforts against Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland and Board Chair Ann Wheeler and a federal lawsuit against Candland.

The County is also looking at expanding its overlay district in order to accommodate more data center developments at neighboring Loudoun County – the densest data center market in the world – reaches its saturation point and developments increasingly spill over into PWC.

The staff report would designate 2,139 acres currently designated as agricultural/estate and environmental resource to technology/flex, parks and open space, county registered historic site and environmental resource overlay. The proposed change would target 1,321 acres as technology/flex, 807 acres as parks and open space, 439.8 acres as environmental resource protection overlay and 9.6 acres as county historic registered site.

If the Comprehensive Plan amendment is approved, the potential data center usage would range from 13.2 million to 27 million square feet, according to the report. A letter from NOVEC in the staff report suggests the project could total more than 1,000MW.

“PW Digital Gateway represents a substantial investment with the potential to propel Prince William County as a leader in the Data Center Industry from a regional, national, and global level. This includes a significant increase in the County’s commercial tax revenue, expansion of an identified targeted industry identified by the Board of County Supervisors, and an opportunity to promote Prince William County as a “high-tech” community,” the staff report notes.

Phase one of the ‘Pageland Lane Technology Corridor’ would span around 430 acres, which could potentially yield 7 million square feet of building development, exceeding the current size of Prince William County’s data center market.

The Planning Commission’s public hearing is scheduled for 7pm on Sept. 14.

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