After marathon meeting, plan for Prince William data centers moves forward

After a marathon public hearing that started Tuesday night, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday morning voted 5-2 to build a huge data center complex in the Gainesville area.

The vote that came at 9:47 a.m. Wednesday came after a marathon public hearing that started at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Comments from the public went from 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to 8:10 a.m. Wednesday.

The Digital Gateway plan calls for building up to 27 million square feet of data centers.

Hundreds of county residents spoke at the hearing, with supporters claiming it would boost the local economy through additional tax revenue and opponents expressing concerns about the project potentially wrecking the rural landscape.

“Every single function we do every day requires data centers,” said Dori Burner, a county resident who presented public testimony in support of the project. “Every time you hit save on the computer, watch Netflix or pay bills online, you are using data.”

Another supporter, county resident James Peoples, said that the county’s rural areas would eventually be developed in one way or another.

“Change is coming to our part of the world whether we like it or not,” Peoples said. “I for one would rather have data centers than thousands of cars, houses, condos and traffic.”

“There are so many unknowns with regard to impacts — environmental and watershed — with all these concrete structures,” said Brandon Campbell.

Campbell added that data centers are “loud” and usually “in industrial zones for a reason.”

County Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, who opposes the project, said it would “wreak havoc on our national and local history.”

Lawson lashed out at her colleagues several times, at one point even saying that they were treating her like a “battered wife.”

County Supervisor Kenny Boddye, who supports the project, said it “give us a comprehensive road map to transform a stretch of land into a real economic engine for the entire county.”

The data center complex would be constructed on 2,100 acres of rural land.

Here’s an overview of the Digital Gateway plan. (Courtesy Prince William County Supervisors)

A recent report predicted that Northern Virginia would soon become the world’s first two-gigawatt data center market. That is 2 billion watts, or enough to perpetually power 1.5 million homes.

Rob Faktorow, vice chairman of CBRE, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firms, last week told WTOP that Northern Virginia is “the data center capital of the world, the largest market in the world, by three times.” He added, “It encompasses almost 50% of the data centers in the United States.”

WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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