Judge dismisses second Gainesville group’s suit seeking to block Digital Gateway

Opponents of the Prince William Digital Gateway protest outside of Bull Run Middle School in Manassas during an open house scheduled by one of the developers Compass Datacenters on April 25, 2023. (InsideNoVa/James Jarvis)
This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

A Prince William County Circuit Court Judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Gainesville-area Oak Valley Homeowners Association seeking to block the approval of the proposed PW Digital Gateway data center project.

The lawsuit was filed against the Prince William Board of County Supervisors last year on behalf of the homeowners association, Ian Mirkes, Gabrielle Pyle, Michael Donegan, Christopher Wall, Jeffrey Jensen, Cameron Rohrer, John Bradshaw, Stephanie Chartrand, John Hermansen and Jose Medina.

It asked a judge to rule that the board’s vote to authorize guidelines for the proposed project was “arbitrary and capricious,” arguing the action reduced residential real estate values, ignored negative comments from staff and county commissions, was taken before a water study was conducted and didn’t address noise issues.

Court documents show Chief Deputy County Attorney Alan F. Smith argue supervisors have no legal duty to address the concerns of other government bodies or individuals, including constituents, Fairfax County, the Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent and the Prince William County Historical Commission.

“It is common for different agencies, entities, interest groups, and members of the public to have conflicting views on land use proposals. The Board is not required to consider them in acting on a [Comprehensive Plan Amendment], and is not bound by them,” Smith wrote.

“When engaging in land use planning, some groups and individuals will be dissatisfied with the result. It does not create a legal right of action for those left dissatisfied.”

Oak Valley Homeowners Association President Mac Haddow in an interview said it was an “astounding conclusion” for Smith to render.

“The legislature clearly set up a requirement for the county to evaluate and consider what the comments are,” Haddow said. “Why else would it be there if the idea is that they just have to accept comments, but not consider them, particularly when they’re substantive?”

He continued: “This board is hellbent to be the great advocate for data centers. They’re elected to be our representatives.”

Smith also argued the suit should be tossed out because members of the homeowners association did not demonstrate that they will suffer “any particularized” harm from the project that is different from that which may be suffered by the general public.

“We appreciate the Court’s time and consideration in this matter,” Smith said in a statement to InsideNova about the judge dismissing the suit.

Judge James A. Willet sided with the county in dismissing the suit but allowed the homeowners association 21 days from May 25 to amend and refile its complaint with some specifications, according to the homeowners association’s attorney Craig Blakeley. Blakeley declined to comment on the judge’s ruling, deferring to Haddow.

Haddow said they’re considering refiling the suit but are constrained by financial resources.

Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler, a supporter of the Digital Gateway, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The dismissal marked the second suit brought by Gainesville residents opposing the data center project that was thrown out on grounds the plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to bring a suit against the county.

Earlier in May, a suit filed on behalf of Roger Yackel, Roger Miller and Gainesville Citizens for Smart Growth — a nonprofit composed mostly of Heritage Hunt subdivision residents opposed to the gateway — was dismissed.

The Heritage Hunt residents argued the project would negatively impact the environment and nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park. They also said it would create unwanted noise, traffic and a “visual blight” on the surrounding community.

The county rebuffed their claim, arguing the residents’ suit amounted to a mere political disagreement with elected officials that was premised on misrepresentations of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, according to court documents.

Prince William County’s supervisors in 2022 approved a Comprehensive Plan amendment related to the PW Digital Gateway, paving the way for the project to move forward and signaling its likely approval.

Still, the companies — QTS and Compass Datacenters — must secure rezonings for their projects proposing 27.6 million square feet of data centers on 2,139 acres along Pageland Lane in Gainesville. The project is the largest and most contentious local land-use proposal in decades.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.


Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up