Recall effort launched against Prince William Supervisor Pete Candland over controversial data center proposal

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Gainesville residents have started gathering signatures to recall Prince William County Supervisor Pete Candland over his involvement with the controversial PW Digital Gateway proposal.

Elena Schlossberg, executive director of the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, announced the recall effort Tuesday.

“Pete Candland must resign – today – or be recalled,” Schlossberg said in a news release. “The citizens of his district are here to make that happen. Candland’s corrupt behavior and misuse of his office makes him unfit for public service at any level.”

Last summer, landowners along Pageland Lane submitted a request to change the land designation of their properties in the Comprehensive Plan from agricultural zoning to technology zoning. The request on 2,100 acres could pave the way for 27.6 million square feet of data centers, nearly as much data center space as is currently in use or under construction in neighboring Loudoun County, the world’s largest concentration of such facilities.

In November, Candland and his wife were among 19 homeowners in the Catharpin Farm Estates neighborhood who filed a Comprehensive Plan Amendment seeking to change the designation of their property as part of the digital gateway.

At the time, Candland said he had no choice but to join the application.

“[W]ith the consideration of Pageland Lane becoming a ‘data center alley,’ the likes of which our region has never seen, this has put everything into turmoil,” Candland said at the time.

His decision to join the Comprehensive Plan Amendment application means Candland must recuse himself from votes on any data center proposals along the Pageland Lane corridor.

Virginia law allows residents to petition the Circuit Court to remove any elected official for four reasons: neglect of duty/misuse of office/incompetence; conviction of certain misdemeanors; conviction of a hate crime; or conviction of certain sexual crimes.

The petition focuses on alleged neglect of duty and misuse of office, citing a litany of votes Candland has taken on data centers, related zoning changes or tax rates related to data centers.

The petition must be signed by registered voters composing at least 10% of the total number of votes cast in the most recent election for the office.

Candland won re-election in 2019 over Democrat Danny Funderburk with 57.6% of the 17,952 votes cast. The petition would need signatures from at least 1,796 registered voters.

In Virginia, a recall petition is entirely handled by the local Circuit Court rather than through a vote. If the petition is submitted and certified, the court would hold a trial before making a decision. If Candland is recalled, the Board of Supervisors would be tasked with appointing someone to temporarily fill his seat until a special election.

Candland, who was first elected in 2011, is the most senior member of the Board of Supervisors.

The data center industry has quickly become the center of land-use debates in the Prince William County. The issue has centered on a 23-year-old policy to restrict development in about 117,000 acres, or about 52% of its land, to no more than one home for every 10 acres with strict restrictions on the expansion of public sewer lines.

The policies that enacted those protections have been weakened this year through several party-line votes, with Democrats voting together to examine land-use topics countywide rather than only in the designated development area.

Republican supervisors Jeanine Lawson and Yesli Vega have also voiced their opposition to the PW Digital Gateway, while Democrats have not taken a firm public stance on it.

If Candland had not recused himself, the Republican minority on the board would only need one Democrat to join them in voting against the PW Digital Gateway to keep it from being approved. With his recusal, Republicans need two Democrats on their side.

Since Candland’s recusal, many PW Digital Gateway opponents who live in his district have repeatedly called on Candland to resign.

The petition cites a May 23 letter from Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth to Candland about his ability to vote on certain topics as part of its evidence for its claims. Ashworth confirmed the authenticity of the letter on Tuesday and declined any comment on the petition.

In the letter, Ashworth says that Candland cannot participate in any discussion or vote on:

• Any rezoning application involving the PW Digital Gateway, even if it does not include his property.

• “Any matter involving data center(s)” in the PW Digital Gateway area or its vicinity, although the letter does not specify the geographic parameters of this.

• Any amendment to the text or map of the Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District.

• Any meetings with members of the public to discuss the PW Digital Gateway.

Ashworth closes by saying that it is her opinion that “the closer your discussions, considerations and/or votes are to affecting the value of your property, the closer you are to a conflict of interest. Bearing this in mind, I have deliberately taken a cautious approach in my opinions.”

Candland has been involved in work sessions involving the Comprehensive Plan and voted to delay a community meeting on the Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District in January.

“Candland is worse than compromised. He’s complicit in enriching himself while working against his constituents’ interests,” Schlossberg said in the release. “The citizens of this county – and this district – have fought and won against richer men. Today is the beginning of the end for Candland.”

Prince William County is no stranger to recall efforts, though it’s unclear if a successful recall has occurred locally. In 2017, two petitions were started to recall then-Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart and then-School Board Chair Ryan Sawyers.

The Stewart recall effort never reached a trial while Sawyers resigned his seat in the midst of the effort.

At the time, the controversial Stewart lambasted such efforts, saying, “These petitions, they’ve been coming up for 10 years … and they never go anywhere, because I would have to break the law. I haven’t done that, and I remain popular in this county.”

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