Prince William Supervisors Vote to Keep Data Center Overlay District Intact

Remaining land within the overlay encroaches on schools


The Prince William County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted against a zoning text amendment that would have eliminated the county’s data center opportunity zone overlay district and changed the use permissions for data centers in specified zoning districts.

Republican Gainesville Supervisor Bob Weir, who proposed the amendment and is often opposed to data center development, said some of the key issues with the overlay are that most of the remaining land parcels left in the overlay district are those that lie closest to schools. Moreover, he said, the transmission corridors the overlay was designed for no longer not have the power necessary to sustain such projects.

“We've ignored triggers, and we've created great uncertainty for residents,” Weir said. “If we had stayed within the confines of the overlay, I would suggest we might not be here. But we haven't, we've strayed far outside it.”

Weir said he didn’t expect his proposal taken up this week to be the final version, but he instead looked at it as a starting point for addressing the issues related to the data center overlay.

Republican Brentsville Supervisor Tom Gordy similarly voiced his concern over power issues in the overlay district.

“Yesterday I spent an hour with Dominion trying to figure out how in the world they were going to get power to the data center overlay,” Gordy said. “The whole point of the overlay is to put data centers where the power was. The power is consumed.”

Gordy and Weir were the only supervisors in support of nixing the overlay district, with the final vote coming in at 6-2.

District’s creation

The overlay district was created by the board in 2016 to concentrate data centers in areas where officials believed there was sufficient existing infrastructure to support their immense electricity demands.

But Gordy pointed out that much of the land that in the district, particularly in Brentsville and Gainesville, is already occupied by businesses. For Gordy, this means the county has reached a point where it is going to sacrifice the small businesses already operating to bring in more data centers to the overlay district.

“When we talk about trying to diversify our economy, we're actually moving in the wrong direction. We're putting all of our eggs in the data center basket,” Gordy continued. “And so moving forward, this isn't just green space development, where we're just going to put a data center, we're going to be losing something and probably losing more jobs than gonna be created.”

Gordy said Weir’s proposal would not mean the end of data centers in the county, but it would bring a new approach.

“It’s time to tap the brakes and bring some level of discipline and control by the board rather than just allowing by-right to continue to take place,” he said.

A majority of the speakers who offered remarks during the board’s public comment time spoke about the amendment.

Citizen support, opposition

Tyler Johnson, a Coles District resident, said he was born and raised in Prince William County and returned to the area after college to work as a project manager for a general contractor.

“Without this county's thriving data center market I couldn't have returned to such a great community that I was raised in and put down my own roots,” Johnson said. He urged the board to vote against any effort that would roll back the overlay zone.

A number of speakers made similar arguments, asking the board to keep the data center overlay zone intact because of the economic boon data centers have been for both them personally and the county’s coffers.

But some residents said the data center overlay is not about jobs at all. 

Elena Schlossberg, a data center opponent who established the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, said the overlay boundary is not sustainable because of the demand it puts on the county's resources.

“It's time to have [special use permits] for everything, and you all need to understand the amount of power and water that you are thrusting upon the community," Schlossberg said.

Kate Smiley, a representative of the Data Center Coalition, told supervisors the changes listed in the amendment will have a “significant detrimental impact on the future of data center development in the county as well as on existing facilities and sites currently in process.”

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data center, Gainesville, Bob Weir, Data Center Overlay District, Prince William County, Tom Gordy, supervisors, BOCS, Dominion Power,