The Prince William Planning Department has recommended the denial of all three applications to rezone land along Pageland Lane to Tech/Flex in order to build the Prince William Digital Gateway. This includes Prince William Digital Gateway South and North and the Compass site. Planners cited incomplete information in the applications.
Unknowns in these applications include the foot plan, height of buildings, preservation measures, effects on cultural resources and landscape aesthetics. Without additional information, the county would not be able to determine what the Digital Gateway would look like upon final buildout, and would not be able to limit how the builders would design those features.
The proposal will go before the Planning Commission, on Nov. 8, with the public hearing opening at 2 p.m., at the McCoart Government Building. Sign-up begins at noon. The public hearing before the supervisors is on the agenda for Dec. 12.
All three applications suffered from similar deficiencies. Collectively, they are delineated as the following:
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors can choose to disregard the planner’s recommendation and approve the rezoning sans the information. However, without specific parameters and limitations, the developers would have carte blanch over the development of the property.
In a message to Bristow Beat, QTS acknowledged the issues and said the company has submitted additional proffers, addressing what was lacking in the application.
The digital gateway, which would bring approximately 30 data centers into the area in the Gainesville District, has been highly controversial. It is situated near the Manassas National Battlefield, opens the rural area for development and would make Prince William County the data center capital of the world.
The project may be seen and heard from the battlefield and some Gainesville neighborhoods.
Despite opposition, supervisors were well aware of the digital gateway proposal in November and so prepared the county’s comprehensive plan to designate land use of the property as Tech/Flex. The new plan should have made it easier for developers to gain the recommendations of the planners. However, it is by no means a done deal.
Since the data centers are outside the data center overlay district, some might argue that a Special Use Permit ought to be required. Additionally, the county would still want the developers to meet certain norms, such as size and height of buildings and to add proffers to protect the Manassas National Park and cultural heritage areas around the battlefield.
Throughout the process, the QTS and Compass have touted the Gateway as positive for the county because the plan includes environmental preservation, landscaping, buffers and cultural aspects of the project. However, those proffers aspects were not solidified within the submitted documents.
According to the planning documents, QTS only provided site plans for illustrative purposes. Neither the Digital Gateway South nor North applications include “Target Densities,” the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) for each individual land bay. The Digital Gateway South application (the area closest to Manassas National Battlefield Park) has an undefined footprint in both the floor area and the height of the buildings.
The Compass Data Centers application has the additional deficiency of Height Modification (the ability to increase building height up to 100 feet).
Digital Gateway South (QTS)
The application for DIGITAL GATEWAY SOUTH requests a rezoning from approximately 342 acres from Agricultural to Planned Business District to allow for data centers, ancillary uses and electric substations. The application requests 3.7 million square feet of floor area for the data centers.
The department recommended denial since the applicant did not apply for a waiver of the Special Use Permit that would allow QTS to build data centers outside of the data center overlay district. Additionally, uncertainties include the placement of buildings and other structures, density and the ability to make changes once the plan is approved.
Without this information, the Planners cannot determine if the actual buildout will match the illustrative plans QTS provided to them.
Digital Gateway North (QTS)
Staff recommends denial of the Digital Gateway North application as well. Deficiencies include the unknown effects to the environmental and cultural resources that were promised at other times. They are very important since the data centers would be housed on a rural site that includes streams, forests, wildlife and Civil War-era graves and artifacts both known and unknown.
The proposal is also unclear contradictory in parts, and requests heights exceeding that which is permitted within the tech/flex designation.
The planners included this list of issues with the North QTS property.
The Compass site has similar defects that resulted in the planners’ recommendation to deny the application as well.https://princewilliamturkeytrot.com/
The county was under a deadline to bring the applications to the floor for a public hearing before the end of the year. In July, QTS’s attorney requested the county hold a public hearing with the applicant before the end of the year. To not do so would leave the county in violation of state and county policy. The chair set a date, and then that date was amended to Dec. 12, 2023.
Holding the hearing before the end of the year would also allow the current board, rather than the future board, to decide upon the rezoning. This could work in favor of the applicants.
QTS provided Bristow Beat with a statement regarding its plans for adjusting its applications.
Data Developers Responses
Last week, QTS Realty Trust announced a series of major new commitments in response to a Prince William County Planning Commission Staff Report on the Prince William Digital Gateway.
"By directly addressing the feedback of Prince William citizens, QTS continues to demonstrate its commitment to be a productive partner with the entire County to ensure the Digital Gateway’s benefits are fully realized," said a press release sent by Nick DeSarno.
"The legally binding concessions made by QTS address building height, location, layout; architectural aspects; cultural and historic preservation concerns; and environmental impacts of the data center campus in Prince William County," DeSarno said.