Prince William County Approves Controversial 2,100-Acre Data Center Plan
Officials in Prince William County have approved a controversial plan that may turn a rural swath of the Virginia county into one of the world’s major data center hubs.
Following a contentious 14-hour hearing that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted to approve land use changes that allow data center development on more than 2,100 acres of mostly rural land near the Manassas battlefield. Branded as the Prince William Digital Gateway, the development plan has been the subject of heated debate amid resident concerns about the impact of large-scale industrial infrastructure in the predominantly rural area.
The board’s 5-2 vote paves the way for a pair of data center campuses proposed by QTS and Compass Data Centers, and it could permit additional data center build-outs at a scale comparable to neighboring Loudoun County, by a significant margin the world’s largest data center market.
“This is a bold plan, and it will change the landscape of Prince William County,” said county board Chair Ann Wheeler, who voted in favor of the changes.
The board’s vote changes the county’s land use master plan to allow for the rezoning of 2,139 acres in a stretch of farms, homes and protected forest known as the Rural Crescent. First proposed in 2021 by developers and a group of landowners, the PW Digital Gateway footprint extends from the historic Manassas battlefield in the south to Route 234 on its northern boundary.
Data center giants QTS and Compass Data Centers are already planning large-scale campuses on a combined 1,636 acres within the PW Digital Gateway. While both projects still have to go through zoning and development review independently, their combined total build-out is likely to exceed 18M SF of data center space with more than 1,000 megawatts of capacity.
With the proposed land use changes approved, the county will now allow as much as 27.6M SF of data center buildings within the PW Digital Gateway site. That’s nearly as much as has been built or is under construction in neighboring Loudoun County, the home of so-called Data Center Alley and home to the world’s largest concentration of these facilities.
The prospect of the Rural Crescent transforming into one of the world’s largest data center hubs has sparked heated debate in county boardrooms and local editorial pages since the project was first proposed. These emotions were on full display prior to the board’s vote Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, as hundreds of residents waited for hours to have their say.
“Should you foolishly decide to approve this disaster, despite all advice to the contrary, it will forever stain your legacy,” said Bill Wright, an area resident who has led opposition to the project, The Washington Post reports.
This was the second time in as many months that a public hearing on the PW Digital Gateway stretched through the night due to the number of public comments. Supporters of the project point to the tax revenue that would pour into county coffers from data centers. But critics cite a host of environmental concerns, from diminished water quality to noise pollution, and argue that the project will blight the landscape around the historic Manassas Civil War battlefield and destroy the area’s rural character. The project’s advocates say the county’s plan provides adequate protections and far stricter regulations than what developers had hoped.