Compass highlighted the positive aspects of its plans for the Prince William Digital Gateway, last week, hoping to get more residents board with the project. However, they were met with skepticism.
Compass data center developers held an open house Tuesday night, at Bull Run Middle School in Haymarket, to showcase aspects of their proposed Prince William Digital Gateway project. Compass invited residents of Heritage Hunt. Other residents and local environmentalists also attended. Attendees were able to ask questions and provide comments.
The data center mega campus, the digital gateway, would be located on 2,133 acres along Pageland Lane in the Gainesville District. While the board of supervisors added it to the county’s comprehensive plan, it still requires formal approval by the board in the form of a rezoning.
Compass' leadership believes digital gateway is unique because it is being created holistically rather than haphazardly. This allows developers Compass and QTS to incorporate features the community desires.
Data centers are a targeted industry in Prince William County because they could provide the county with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue. Compass did not initiate the digital gateway but is excited to join the project.
The project remains extremely controversial for many Gainesville-area residents. They say the cluster of data centers would be too close to the Manassas National Battlefield, Conway Robinson State Park, and Heritage Hunt 55+ HOA community. Their concerns include constant noise pollution from data center HVAC systems, intermittent air pollution from data center diesel generators, and seeing the data centers from their homes.
Environmentalist groups have concerns about the preservation of land, wildlife, and nature, toxic area pollution, plus the effects on water quality. Historic groups want to preserve the park experience and historic and cultural resources, both known and yet to be discovered. Everyone realizes it could tax the electrical grid.
Compass hoped to change the conversation while providing some clarity on the project.
“So much of the conversation has been whether the idea is good, so the details of how it gets implemented get lost,” said Mark Looney, Esq. of Cooley, LLP, the law firm representing Compass.
Inside the gymnasium attendees received packets that included the details of the project. Residents were encouraged to walk around, look at maps and images, and ask questions. The meeting was attended by approximately 70-100 people. Everyone remained cordial and residents engaged with QTS staff, explaining their concerns.
But residents were wary of Compass believing that they could offer proffers that the board could waive at a later time.
The planning commission already voted to remove many aspects of the project with many commissioners not even realizing those elements had been removed. Residents said they are watching closely to see that applicants and supervisors act transparently. They know that the current board is predominantly in favor of the data centers, and thus may not act in their interest.
Chris Curtis, SVP of Acquisition and Development for Compass, explained that the company wants to do right by the people of Prince William County.
“We understand this is a very important issue and we want to be good neighbors,” said Curtis. “We don’t flip and sell. We take our reputation very seriously.”
He explained that the new plans show their dedication to reforestation, preserving forests, protecting groundwater, preserving the view shed, as well as preserving the region’s history.
Number of Buildings
Compass and QTS never announced how many data center buildings they were building. However, Compass told Bristow Beat it had 12-16 buildings planned on its 884 acres. That means the Prince William Digital Gateway would not contain 90+ buildings as some had predicted, but half that amount or less.
Compass’s map shows 14 points where they flew balloons for a view shed analysis. Buildings would range between 60-90 feet in height.
A mockup of the typical Compass land bay site plan shows the preservation of natural open space around the data buildings to include reforested areas and stormwater management facilities. Streams and trails would run beside the bays.
Viewshed would be mitigated by only building 60-foot buildings nearest to Heritage Hunt and the national park. Only three buildings would be visible to Heritage Hunt residents during the winter months. Building colors could mitigate their view. Onsite lighting would be faced down to minimize light pollution.
Compass is also proffering open space, where they will create buffers using some native plants and there will be “tree save areas.” The vision is “800 acres of new connected open space.”
Most open space runs alongside Little Bull Run and smaller streams; this makes some of the land ineligible for development. Compass is including equestrian trails to connect to those on the Manassas Battlefield as well as walking trails and multi-use paved trails/bike paths along Pageland Lane.
Community & Cultural Resources
Parks and community resource areas are not owned by Compass or QTS, the other data center developer. However, they are proffering the creation of Southern Park, the Natural Cultural Resources Park to the north, the Settlement and Thorton School Interpretive Site, and preserving the Pattie Cemetery. This is dependent upon the land becoming available to the county.
Historic Cemeteries & Artifacts
There are eight known small cemeteries scattered around the digital gateway properties and perhaps more that are unknown. Compass said it would “preserve and delineate all cemeteries.” The company agreed to shovel tests every 50 feet interval to check for graves or artifacts. Historical resources would be studied and preserved.
Noise mitigation is one of the biggest issues for residents. Datacenter HVA noise is especially damaging in that it is repetitive, unceasing, and at a pitch that your mind zeroes in on. Compass agreed to comply with any noise ordinance set by the jurisdiction.
Curtis said he believes that 1500 feet between the nearest data center to the closest home in Heritage Hunt, along with 500 feet of tree lines, should muffle the sound. Sound could be heard from the Amazon data center in Manassas at 600 feet from backyards.
To ensure sound is not a problem, they are conducting professional sound studies. Those studies will remain ongoing as the data centers are being built and become operational. Residents still say that would be a challenge, and one of their biggest concerns is the county waiving that proffer if it could not be accomplished.
While Compass does not have a specific plan for quieting the HVAC systems, he said cooling technology is always improving, and they will do what they must to meet compliance. Meanwhile, the Prince William Board of Supervisors is experimenting with extending its noise restrictions to include HVAC systems on commercial properties.
Curtis said it comes down to the fact that Compass does not want to be a problematic neighbor.
“It’s very important because we are going to be here a while and we want to be a valued part of the community,” he said.
Transportation & Mobility
Should the digital gateway be built it would fund the widening of Pageland Land, which people consider both good and bad. Some worry it would become the BiCounty Parkway, attracting shipping traffic from Dulles Airport.
Traffic circles are intended to prevent it from becoming a major highway. The data center developers are proffering paved bike paths, bridge crossings, and landscaping along roads and roundabouts. Fifty-foot buffers of greenery hide data centers from Pageland Lane.
QTS and Compass said they will pay for road improvements.
Residents seemed happy to be able to interact directly with Compass, but many were cynical about the outcome.
“This is a dog and pony show with long-term effects on all of us who remain here,” said Taysha King of Oak Valley, a neighborhood near the proposed center.
King wishes the supervisors were as responsive to the concern of residents living near Pageland as Pageland residents wanting to sell their land to data center developers.
“[Chair Ann Wheeler-D] doesn’t even listen. She may as well be filing her nails.”
People turned to Brentsville Planning Commissioner Tom Gordy to hear their concerns. Gordy is running for Brentsville Supervisor on the Republican ticket.
One woman showed Curtis off her protest poster, noting they are advocating for clean air and clean lungs. She said they've kept it respectful and are not trolling online.
Protesters have mainly targeted Chair Wheeler, understanding that the data center developers want to make money and this is a good location for them.
Supervisors were unable to attend the meeting as they had to attend the board’s budget meeting.
Del. Danica Roem-D of the 13-District attended the meeting. Speaking to Bristow Beat, she explained her efforts to protect the Manassas Battlefield and Conway Robinson State Park from data center development, including working within a bipartisan coalition.
"This is a huge issue that goes way beyond party politics," she said.
However, according to Roem, Republican support dissipates in areas farther from the battlefield. Many pro-business Republicans are taking their cues from Governor Glenn Youngkin-R, who is courting data centers to come to Virginia.
"What happens when business interests get in the way of protecting my constituents? House Republicans kill [those bills,]" she said.
Roem said she is also pro-business, but said data centers do not bring many jobs to a region. "We need good jobs here so you don't have to commute."
She believes there still is an opportunity to pass a bill to bury any new powerlines under 500 KVs. (at that point they become too hot to bury.) According to Roem, that bill failed initially only because delegates did not understand what bill they were voting on at the time.
In case the Prince William Digital Gateway does pass, this would protect the viewshed from the park and residential areas.
MORE COMMUNITY MEETINGS
QTS has released information on its revised design elements as it is submitting a third draft to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Like Compass, the developer is highlighting environmentally-friendly and resident-friendly aspects of the project.
QTS has rescheduled its community outreach meeting for May 2 at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Haymarket. A coalition of residents and environmentalists plan to protest prior to the meeting.
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