‘Drops a bomb on the community:’ Bristow-area residents sue to block Devlin Technology Park data center

Demonstrators opposing Devlin Technology Park prior to the Nov. 28 meeting. (Courtesy Ben Peters/InsideNova)

A group of Bristow-area residents have filed a lawsuit against Prince William County and a developer to halt construction of the Devlin Technology Park data center complex that will back their residential neighborhood.

The residents alleged it was illegal for the Board of County Supervisors to approve a rezoning of 269 acres on the county’s western end to allow for 4.2-million square feet of between seven to nine data centers northwest of Devlin Road that’s directly adjacent to hundreds of homes.

They also claim their quality of life, property values and neighborhood character will be negatively impacted by the data centers soon to be developed by Stanley Martin Cos. Inc., which is also named as a defendant in the suit.

The project, approved by the board in November following a lengthy meeting, marked the latest high-profile data center project to move forward in Prince William County despite outcry from residents and advocacy groups over its proximity to residences and abundant concerns about it harming neighbors.

Its approval “culminated years of concerted efforts to pave over western Prince William County and erect brutal monoliths to the digital lifestyle,” the litigants alleged in a lawsuit filed Dec. 28 in Prince William County Circuit Court. The application from Stanley Martin, they argued, “drops a bomb on the community.”

Stanley Martin did not immediately return a request for comment.

The neighbors, William and Stephanie Caparoula, Megan Carey, Vashon Citizen, Jan and Thomas Ellison and Michael Phillips, are represented by outgoing Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen who has recently taken to fighting Prince William County data center approvals. Through a nonprofit, they’re paying for the suit via a crowdfunding campaign that has raised nearly $5,000. Peterson’s office did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The Devlin project experienced a troubled approval process, with several delays and growing opposition from nearby residents who have resisted the inclusion of a data center complex in a residential neighborhood. Stanley Martin first proposed building 551 single-family homes on the three parcels but then purchased them outright for over $50 million and switched gears to a data center, leaving behind the homebuilding plan.

The rezoning requests for the project were initially heard by the board in early 2023 with public feedback but was then deferred to March. The developer subsequently deferred its application indefinitely, with it reemerging in late September to be heard in the form of an amended proposal, incorporating previous public feedback and requested changes from the board.

But the amended proposal wasn’t vetted by the Planning Commission, which initially recommended approval of the project, and didn’t allow staff as much time to review it as opponents would have liked. The board’s approval of the project also gutted a previously promised dedicated public park space after it was deemed an unenforceable provision.

The neighbors alleged the application not returning to the Planning Commission was a violation of the law. They also alleged the board violated code by approving an application without studies having been conducted on the potential impacts of sound emitted from the data centers.

A Prince William County spokesperson on Thursday said the board had not yet been served with the suit.

“If the Board is served with the lawsuit, the County Attorney’s Office will defend the Board’s action with the appropriate court pleadings,” spokesperson Nikki Brown said, noting the county does not comment on active litigation.

While planning staff acknowledged the project’s proximity to residences was not ideal, they ultimately gave it the green light, noting its potential economic benefits and alignment with the county’s Comprehensive Plan as data centers are a targeted industry.

The board’s Democratic majority of Chair Ann Wheeler, Woodbridge Supervisor Margaret Franklin, Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye, Neabsco Supervisor Victor Angry and Potomac Supervisor Andrea Bailey supported the data center. Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega, Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson and Gainesville Supervisor Bob Weir — all Republicans — opposed the Devlin project.

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