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Prince William Co. Leaders Approve Disputed Data Center Rezoning Plan

Many Bristow residents believe the data center will lower their quality of life, while others believe it will create jobs.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a data center rezoning plan in Bristow, Virginia, after an all-night marathon meeting on Tuesday.

The plan to pave the way for a 270-acre Devlin Technology Park on Devlin Road passed with five to three votes, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The approval of the data center has been highly contested by the community and county leaders.

“You know, what hasn’t been addressed by any of these changes? Not a single damn issue raised by the residents who spoke against it,” Gainesville District Supervisor Robert Weir said at the meeting. “And let’s be clear, the residents were overwhelmingly opposed to this and this board and that staff and the applicant have not addressed a single issue.”

Bristow residents oppose data center project

Supervisors in Prince William County are considering a rezoning request for a data center campus. Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reports neighbors oppose the project.

The property is zoned for residential and is near homes and schools. The developer wants the rezoning to build data centers.

The latest plans for the technology park called for about nine new buildings, according to the developer. That number is down from an original proposal of 11 to 14.

Neighbors were at the podium from Tuesday evening to about 5 a.m. Wednesday morning to speak against the change.

‘This was our dream home’

Bristow resident Marian Dobbins said she and her husband picked their lot and built the house in the Victory Lakes neighborhood two decades ago for the view.

“This was our dream home. And we can sit on our deck, and we can listen to the birds, and we can see the foxes run across the yard and the deer,” Dobbins said. “It’s just like a sanctuary to us.”

Her husband has since passed away, but her daughter’s family now shares the home. Dobbins said the plan to build data centers nearby threatens their quality of life. 

The large property is in the midst of homes and schools, including the Chris Yung Elementary School.

“We should not have a vote of putting data centers surrounded by five neighborhoods and two schools, elementary schools and a playground. This is ridiculous,” Dobbins said.

Bethany Kelly, who’s organized demonstrations to showcase opposition, said with the elevated site, the 81-foot structures will loom over the neighborhood, much like the one pictured below being built a few miles away. 

She also worries about noise from the decade or more of construction.

“The sound concerns me, I work from home, my husband works from home…being in a house having to listen to that all day,” Kelly said.

‘This is 10 years’ worth of work’

To Aaron Bast, the business manager for Ironworkers Local 5, data centers mean jobs. He said if the Devlin Technology Park is built hundreds of his members can work close to home with assured future work.

“Something like this magnitude that’s’ going to potentially be 10 years of worth of work. I can’t think of any other project in the DMV area where I can say this is 10 years’ worth of work,” Bast said.

The county estimates the Devlin data centers would mean between 430 to 872 jobs. 

The five board members who have expressed support in the past for the project received a combined $55,000 in campaign contributions from the property developer. 

The data center capital of the world

Recently, Northern Virginia has become the data center capital of the world.

For years, big tech companies have housed a global network of servers commonly called “the cloud” in the region.

The cloud takes up more ground in Loudoun County than anywhere else, and its value is measured in the hundreds of millions.

The tax revenue from these data centers has steadily been on the rise. In 2016, Loudoun County collected $147 million in taxes from data centers, and last year, the county hauled in $663 million. Simultaneously, Loudoun has consistently reduced its real estate tax rate.

Buddy Rizer, the executive director of economic development in Loudoun, is regarded as the father of Northern Virginia data centers. Rizer brought the first data centers to the area nearly two decades ago and has steadily grown the impact of the centers since.

“It’s a lot different when we have actually built something over 15 years than it is when you’re taking land that was never intended for this use and then rezoning it,” Rizer said.

What’s next for data centers

In less than two weeks, more rezoning applications for data center development could come up for a vote.

In a few weeks, three different applications that total nearly 2,000 acres could be proposed.

Source: NBC Washington