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The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted early Wednesday morning to defer the vote on rezoning for Devlin Technology Park data center in Bristow until March 7. During that time supervisors will consider an alternate plan that would divide the property into two parts with no data centers near Chris Yung Elementary School and possibly 135 homes in its place.
The 269 acres of the proposed center were to be located along Linton Hall Road, Devlin Road, and abutting Chris Yung Elementary School. People believed data center noise would directly affect nine local communities including Lanier Farms, Sheffield Manor, Victory Lakes, plus Silver Leaf and Amberleigh Station adjacent to the Hunter data center. It may affect more Linton Hall communities if sound travels 2-3 miles as predicted by NASA Scientist Dr. John Lyver's study.
The property is sandwiched between residential and industrial zones. The 2.5 million square feet of data centers would be divided into 14 data center buildings. They are planned to be 80 feet tall with 15 feet of additional HVAC systems on their roofs.
Stanley Martin proffered that noise greater than 60 decibels would not be allowed passed the edge of the property. The company also proffered a limit on the frequency and intonation of the sound. However, it was written in such technical language that no one could explain it, and they did not know if it was enforceable.
Residents did not trust the proffers would protect them from noise pollution since they do not know how the buildings would quiet the buildings. They also did not know if the county could enforce the proffer even with a stricter noise ordinance.
Residents who spoke during the seven-hour public hearing mainly voiced their concerns about HVAC noise affecting Chris Yung Elementary School and Bristow Montessori School. They also had concerns the cumulative sound would negatively affect Bristow Run Elementary School, Gainesville Middle School, and Gainesville High School, adding to noise from the Hunter, Mango and Google data centers.
The vote was taken at nearly 3 a.m. on February 8 after an almost 8-hour meeting with approximately 75 speakers in the room and more online All speakers from Prince William County said they were adamantly opposed to the data centers especially since the noise would likely affect homes and schools.
When Supervisors began to discuss the matter, Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye-D offered a compromise. He proposed that approximately a third of the property not be included in the rezoning. Stanley Martin would remove the request to rezone land north of University Boulevard. This would move data centers significantly away from Chris Yung Elementary School and many homes as well.
That smaller area could remain zoned for 135 homes as is currently on the books. Stanley Martin could either build those homes or perhaps the land would remain vacant.
Additionally, Stanley Martin agreed to double most tree buffers along Linton Hall Road, both sides of Devlin Road, and behind Bristow Montessori. They would proffer a 200-foot tree line and preserve as many existing trees as possible. They would plant some evergreen trees too at the county's recommended density.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson-R said she was not included in discussions about the restructuring of the plan and had caught wind of it on Facebook after some Bristow residents met with Boddye on Monday. As such, she did not get a chance to bring the plan to her residents.
She also said the board should be thorough in rewriting proffers not rush it through at 2:30 a.m. And there was much that they did not know about sound and if the county would be able to mitigate it. There were other issues too. For instance, some residents said that the buildings would be visible from points not included in Stanley Martin's presentation.
She also noted proffer for trails and the community pool were on the south side of the development.
It is also unknown how the new plan would protect schools near the data center side of the development. Sound at Bristow Run Elementary School would increase from 47 decibels to 70+ under the previous plan, a 16,000 times increase, according to Lyver's study.
Additionally, Stanley Martin did not say how many data center buildings would be clustered in the two southwestern parcels of the property.
Lawson called a vote to deny the application. It failed 5-2 with only Coles District Supervisor Yesli Vega-R supporting it.
Although Boddye proposed the new plan, he then made the motion to defer, believing Lawson should have time to take the proposal back to her constituents.
"This one’s tough for me,' said Boddye, saying he was the only one to vote against the Hunter data center that surrounds Amberleigh Station on three sides.
"Now we’re in a situation." Boddye said the zoning had become a "hodgepodge" leaving developers believing data centers were the only option. "At the same time, I feel like we don’t know exactly where we are with this noise issue. We don’t know what we don’t know as decision-makers here.”
Ultimately, he said deferring for a time makes sense so they can "take a time to work collaboratively on this to get where we want to go.”
Chair Ann Wheeler suggested they reconvene next week, but others wanted more time and they also had other projects on the docket. They decided on March 7 as the new date.
At Wheeler's request, Stanley Martin proffered the data centers would be a closed-loop system to protect county water.
Supervisor Victor Angry-D said he was in support of new homes but then he realized any homes they build there would be near data centers.
Other board members thought it was a generous compromise.
Wheeler said that Brentsville residents did not want homes three years ago and now they do not want data centers. She wondered if they just want nothing there.
But Lawson said much has changed in three years. She ran her campaign on fighting home development since schools were incredibly overcrowded. The situation has changed. They built Gainesville High School and now schools are no longer overcapacity.
Lawson said she regrets voting in favor of the Hunter property becoming a data center and does not want this one to follow simply because that one was wrongly approved. Lawson said she is still working with the owners of the Hunter property around Amberleigh Station to increase its buffers.
“I’ve learned a lot since that rezoning and I believe we probably all have," she said. “We thought the 100-foot buffer was something that was adequate." She said she is working with the planning department to "reform how we are rezoning these data center complexes and how we are mitigating the impacts.”
The board voted to unanimously approve the deferral to March 7 with the understanding they would now explore the option to split off a portion of the development.
By March 7 there will be a Gainesville representative on the board. It will also follow the Feb. 28 vote on amending the noise ordinance to include HVAC. That plan would sunset after one year with the option to renew it.
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Lawson does a great job of backpeddling when not running for reelection.
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