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Plan For World's Largest Data Center Hub Approved After 27-Hour Hearing

Lawmakers in Prince William County, Virginia, have approved the controversial Prince William Digital Gateway, greenlighting what is planned to be the world’s largest data center hub.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors

Prince William County’s Board of County Supervisors voted Wednesday to approve zoning changes needed for a pair of massive campuses proposed by QTS and Compass Datacenters that will see over 22M SF of data center space built across more than 2,000 acres in the largely rural region of Northern Virginia.

The vote concluded a marathon 27-hour board meeting that often turned combative — a reflection of the deep divisions surrounding the PW Digital Gateway development that has sparked furious opposition and emerged as a key wedge issue in local politics.  

“This has been a contentious decision and issue for the past two years … it has drawn the community apart,” said Supervisor Victor Angry, who voted in favor of approving the projects. “But this is an opportunity for this county.” 

The PW Digital Gateway has faced significant opposition since the development plan was first proposed in 2021. Land use changes approved by county supervisors last year paved the way for data center development on 2,139 acres next to the historic Manassas battlefield and Interstate 66, but these latest zoning changes were still needed to advance the projects. 

Compass Datacenters and QTS — Blackstone's fast-growing data center subsidiary — have proposed large campuses within the Digital Gateway district that would total 34 data centers with a capacity exceeding 1.7 gigawatts. That is nearly as much as has been built or is under construction in neighboring Loudoun County, the largest data center market in the world.

Supporters of these projects have touted the significant increase in tax revenue data centers would bring to Prince William County — as much as $400M annually, by some estimates — and the subsequent benefits for local schools and government programs.

But the potential influx of data centers also sparked a wave of organized opposition, with residents and advocacy groups raising concerns about the impact of large-scale industrial infrastructure on the local environment, the nearby historic Manassas Battlefield National Park, and the rural character of the area. The development plans have led to protests outside QTS’ regional headquarters and made data center development a fiercely debated topic in local editorial pages. 

Data center development, and the Digital Gateway in particular, also become the central issue in local elections. Two candidates opposed to the project gained seats on the Board of Supervisors earlier this year, with support for the Digital Gateway proving a liability for some incumbents. 

The enormous public interest and deep divisions surrounding the PW Digital Gateway were apparent at Tuesday's board meeting, which lasted well into Wednesday afternoon and saw close to 400 people address the board. Debate from both residents and board members themselves was often acrimonious, with accusations of corruption and the board at one point taking a 10-minute recess for tempers to cool. 

A map showing the boundaries of the 2,139-acre Prince William Digital Gateway area.

In addition to objections to the zoning changes, opponents of the Digital Gateway criticized the board leadership’s handling of the approval process, claiming that corners were cut in an effort to make the decision before the end of the legislative term, when changes in the makeup of the board would be less favorable to the project. 

Critics also accused board members of ignoring the county’s planning staff, which has consistently recommended the denial of both projects in the Digital Gateway footprint. 

“This process has become a circus,” said Supervisor Bob Weir, who opposed the projects. “This process has been unnecessarily rushed, in my view, and we’ve ignored almost all best practices.”

Whether or not the board would approve the project was far from certain up to the moment the final vote was tallied. Minutes earlier, a vote to reject both Digital Gateway projects deadlocked at four-to-four, with Supervisor Kenny Boddye surprising many observers by voting against the project. But despite voicing concerns about the planned development, Boddye abstained from the final vote to approve the zoning changes, effectively giving both projects the go-ahead. 

“QTS is grateful to Prince William County and the Board of Supervisors for entrusting us with stewardship of the Prince William Digital Gateway, which is projected to bring an estimated $500 million in annual tax revenue to the County,” QTS said in a written statement. “QTS will continue to work diligently with County staff, elected officials, and residents as it carries out its environmental and responsible development commitments. We are excited for this partnership to strengthen the Prince William community and bring increased local tax revenue and new job opportunities.” 

Despite the board’s approval, the Digital Gateway’s most vocal opponents say they intend to pursue legal avenues to block the project. On Monday, opposition group Coalition To Protect Prince William County showed at least one of the legal angles they plan to use to continue to fight the project. 

The group argued that this week’s decision should have been delayed due to the county not following guidelines to publish the legally mandated public hearing advertisement for the Digital Gateway in the Washington Post in a timely manner. 

Although county attorneys supported the board leadership’s decision to move forward with the hearing, opponents believe there is a chance that today’s decision will be overturned on procedural grounds. 

“No matter what [the board] does today, it will most likely result in lengthy, expensive litigation — litigation paid for with Prince William County tax dollars,” Weir said.