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Developer Pivots From 550 Homes To 4M SF Of Data Centers On Northern Virginia Site

A major residential developer is ditching plans to build more than 500 homes on a Northern Virginia site and is instead looking to zone the property for a massive data center campus, a sector that has proliferated in the area but has generated increased opposition in recent months. 

An aerial view of the 269-acre site in Bristow, Virginia.

Stanley Martin Homes, a Reston, Virginia-based residential developer and one of the largest homebuilders in the eastern U.S., is asking Prince William County to allow data center development on a 269-acre site in the town of Bristow, a site on which the company is already approved to build 551 new single-family houses, Inside NoVa reports.

According to planning documents filed with the county, the so-called Devlin Technology Park could support as much as 4.2M SF of data center space built in lieu of the controversial, previously planned housing development.  

“[The property’s new use designation] will be more compatible and consistent with the existing, surrounding land uses and zoning of adjacent properties in the area than that of the existing, approved zoning,” Stanley Miller wrote in paperwork filed with PWC officials.  “This request will allow for additional data center development that will further expand the higher wage employment within the County and increase the County’s commercial tax base exponentially.”

Although there is no apparent record of Stanley Martin having any previous involvement with any sort of digital infrastructure, the company’s decision to pivot the Bristow property toward data centers comes after a data center project was approved on an adjacent property in September. The abutting 196-acre site, which closed in October for $48.5M, will likely become a data center for Netherlands-based hyperscale facility provider Yondr, according to InsideNoVa.

Development of the two adjacent properties would mean as much as 465 contiguous acres of data center facilities. Officials with Stanley Martin did not respond to requests for comment as to whether the two sites will be developed separately or in conjunction as a single campus. 

Prior to Stanley Martin’s sudden about-face, the 269 acres of former agricultural land had been ticketed for residential development since 2015. Stonehaven Development initially pitched a dense project with more than 1,000 residential units and more than 1M SF of commercial space, a plan that faced significant local opposition before Stanley Martin purchased the property in 2018 for $51.3M. 

Yet even the company’s significantly pared-down proposal, featuring hundreds of single-family homes and no commercial buildings, stirred fierce opposition despite its eventual approval. Many local residents, along with the Prince William County School Board, opposed the project, saying it would cause overcrowding in the local school system. The property is located near Bristow's Chris Yung Elementary School. 

While a data center on the site would seem to address this particular issue, similar data center proposals are increasingly facing local hostility across Northern Virginia, and particularly in Prince William County, as the industry’s footprint expands across a region that is by far the largest data center market in the world. Opponents generally argue the large industrial facilities and the infrastructure needed to support them are fundamentally changing the character of formerly rural or semi-rural areas. 

Such data center blowback has been on full display in nearby Manassas, where plans to rezone around 2,000 rural acres near the Manassas battlefield as a data center hub have led to protests and a substantial campaign against the so-called PW Digital Gateway. Last month, Culpeper County’s planning board voted against a proposal to turn a 243-acre equestrian center into the site of an Amazon data center following public outcry. 

Industry advocates argue that data centers have been an economic boon for Virginia, where the northern part of the state alone has more data centers than the next six largest markets combined. In a report released last month, industry group Northern Virginia Technical Council claims that 62% of overall investment in Virginia came just from data centers. The group claims the industry produces $7.5B in economic output for Virginia, along with more than 15,000 total jobs.