Virginia’s Prince William County planning commission has recommended denying the massive PW Digital Gateway data center project in Manassas.

The commission sat through a marathon 24-hour meeting overnight from November 8 into midday November 9 that saw hundreds of people speak their views on the project.

PWC planning commission
– Prince William County

QTS and Compass are proposing to develop thousands of acres of greenfield land in Manassas to accommodate tens of millions of sq ft of data center development. Site plans suggest more than 30 buildings could be constructed over the lifetime of the project.

Along with the usual controversies this project has generated – around its impact on the environment, water table, rural nature of the area, and the nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park – the commission took umbrage with the timings of the most recent updates to the applications.

County staff had recommended denial of the proposals to the planning commission on October 28.

QTS and Compass then updated their applications with further proffers (voluntary commitments to reduce the impact of the project), but staff had less than two weeks to go through the updates. This led to the commission attempting to vote on an application before county staff had analyzed the latest version.

After the final speaker gave their views, the commission's Richard R. Berry moved to defer, saying that county staff needed more time to go through proffers.

“We need to provide them [staff] time to do their review and analysis,” he said.

Berry's motion failed three times, with most of the commission believing they had enough information to make a decision.

After that, Berry made a motion to recommend denial of the project to the county board of supervisors.

Supervisors voted 6-2 to recommend denying Compass’ proposals, as well as both QTS’ South and North project proposals.

The projects are expected to go to the County Board of Supervisors on December 12.

QTS told DCD: " “QTS is confident it will address all remaining concerns and ultimately win approval from the Board of Supervisors. QTS is grateful for the Commission’s time and dedication and looks forward to finalizing our partnership with Prince William County, which will support taxpayers, educational goals, and public safety priorities.”

Reports of a PW Digital Gateway surfaced in 2021, originally as an 800-acre development later tied to QTS. However, more landowners joined and the proposal expanded, to one that would turn some 2,133 acres of the county's "rural crescent" over to data centers.

In total, QTS is aiming to develop around 11.3 million gross square feet (1.05 million sqm) of data center space, while Compass aims to develop up to 11.55 million sq ft (1.07 million sqm) of data center space.

This project has a history of creating long public meetings. Twelve months ago, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of changing the comprehensive plan to pave the way for the Gateway project. The meeting began at 7.30 pm local time and continued until after 9 am the next day. Local news reported more than 250 registered to speak during the marathon meeting. Some 40 people spoke remotely via Internet calls, which were taken after around 5 am. The meeting didn't finish until 8 am local time.