It is common for individual property owners to post political signs and banners, but less common for whole communities to do so. Yet, due to overwhelming support, Amberleigh Station's HOA board approved posting Deshundra Jefferson's banner prominently on Linton Hall Road.
Jefferson is challenging Chair Ann Wheeler-D to become the Democratic nominee for Chair of the Prince William Board of Supervisors.
At a meet and greet held in Amberleigh Station in April, Jefferson won over liberal voters by opposing siting data centers within earshot of people's backyards.
Those residents then canvassed to help spread her message. The message was that Jefferson was different than Chair Wheeler because would not rubber stamp every data center proposal.
Wheeler touts data centers as an amazing opportunity for the county to bring in new tax revenue. Jefferson says she is not against data centers as a source of county revenue, but believes the county needs to be transparent and strategic in housing them. She also believes county leaders should take their residents' concerns seriously.
Jeffers said does not think 100 feet from homes and schools is the right location for data centers.
“I’ve been speaking out against data centers in the wrong places. I’ve challenged my own party, and I’ve been consistent,” Jefferson told Bristow Beat.
The candidate attended Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson’s-R Bristow town hall in March. There she witnessed a gymnasium full of residents railing against the Devlin Tech Park proposed to be sited near their homes and Chris Yung Elementary School.
“That was really hard to hear,” said Jefferson. “Who would want to live next to a data center? That is poor leadership. That’s bad land use.”
Jefferson is a single mother and a homeowner, so she knows about sacrifice. She is also a black woman, which would have been groundbreaking a few years earlier, but today people of color make up the majority of the board.
She does not want to play the game of east versus west or black versus white for the sake of politics. “We are dividing people everywhere. It’s not okay. It’s a lot of middle-class families [living here],” she said.
Jefferson also disapproves of the Prince William Digital Gateway because it is in close proximity to the Manassas National Battlefield and for a myriad of other reasons. She not believe the board needs to support owners in quadrupling their land value at the detriment of others. “We’re not stopping anyone from selling,” she said.
Her position should not come as a surprise, she said, as Democrats champion environmental issues. They purport wanting to protect clean air and water. “This is what Democrats stand for; these are the policies we embrace.”
Jefferson said many Prince William Democrats resent her for challenging Wheeler, but she is not there to be a spoiler; she is a serious candidate and did not become a Democrat overnight.
Jefferson served as Regional Communications Director for the Democratic National Committee from 2015-16. She worked in the House of Representatives for two years prior to joining the DNC.
Bristow Democrats said they appreciated Jefferson’s attention to their concerns and supporting the issues they have always believed in, rather than siding with developers. “I’m a strong Democrat. I never thought I’d be outside of the party, but here I am.”
Jefferson, who lives in Montclair, said that protecting residents from data centers is central to her campaign. It is a big part of the reason she is running, but it is not the only reason. She wants to support the middle class and be tougher on crime while continuing to support schools.
She is not worried about losing the majority of the county, saying many people on the eastern side of the county understand the problem with building data centers indiscriminately. They do not want them behind their homes either and sympathize with the concern of other county residents.
"It is not anti-business. It is just bad planning," she explained.
Will that message resonate enough that she beats Wheeler in the primary? Jefferson hopes so.
While only a small group gathered at the meet and greet, it included a diverse group of people, including Democrats, independents and at least one Republican. People lived in Bristow, Gainesville, and the rural crescent.
One young black family described how the data centers would be literally 100 feet from their backyard. It is not what they imagined when they moved into the neighborhood. It is not what they wanted for their children when they bought a home with a backyard.
Jim Gelsen, the Democrat running for Brentsville Supervisor, also attended the event. Gelsen owns a farm and farm brewery in Nokesville and is in favor of protecting the rural crescent. He too wants to keep data centers away from residential areas. Gelsen said he holds liberal values that set him apart from his opponent.
Hosts of the event Elspeth and Tim McCormick explained they organized the event with Jefferson because they are very concerned about the effects data centers would have on their neighborhood and their children's schools.
Amberleigh Station will be surrounded by data centers on three sides. Bristow Run Elementary School will be right across from them. Data centers are planned to be built around Piney Branch Elementary School, Gainesville Middle School and Gainesville High School. They are currently under construction near Tyler Elementary School. They worry that sound pollution will create a cumulative effect that will be heard for miles around.
“You don’t have to be a civil engineer or county planner to know that this practice of inserting industrial zoning directly adjacent to residential areas and schools is the very definition, per the county code, of incompatible development,” said Tim in an OpEd to Bristow Beat. “It also doesn’t take a genius to see that 100 feet is absurdly inadequate to protect our neighbors and communities from the noise, disruption, depressed property values, and other adverse effects alluded to in our county’s guiding documents.”
In 2021, the McCormacks like many others felt they were blind-sighted when the board voted on those initial data centers. JK Land Holdings, owned by Chuck Kuhn, hid the number of buildings planned (between 11-16). The HVAC sound had yet to be a topic of public discussion, and people did not realize that 100 feet was literally a stone’s throw away.
Bristow residents have noticed that by and large Democrats have not stepped up for them. The closest has been Supervisor Kenny Boddye-D of Occoquan, who was the only supervisor to vote against the data center behind Amberleigh. But Elspeth wants a candidate who will provide more than lip service. She wants action.
Despite having no lobbying budget, she and Republican Steve Pleikardt, President of the Amberleigh HOA, convinced Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson to oppose more data center development outside the overlay district.
Pleikardt attended the event, but has not committed to supporting Jefferson, and is also considering Lawson.
Lawson is now running in the Republican primary to be the party's nominee for Chair and many trust that she will defend residents from data centers too close for comfort. Her opponent Kenn Knarr, a retired Marine, touts conservative values but owns land within the proposed Prince William Digital Gateway.
Elspeth would prefer to vote for someone who shares her values- not only on land use- but on an array of issues.
But that is not the reason she participated in the 'Save' Bristow campaign, organizing rallies, talking to supervisors, and even involving her children. That was non-partisan. It was, and still, is all about the cause.
Now, almost everyone in Bristow is aware data centers are coming. It is not that residents do not want the data center industry, but they want transparency and consideration.
Various neighbors share concerns about the Devlin Tech Park, proposed by Stanley Martin to be built near several communities and Chris Yung Elementry School.
Residents of Lanier Farms, Sheffield Manor, Victory Lakes, Crossman Creek, Bridlewood Manor, Linton Hall Manor, Amberleigh Station, and Silver Leaf Estate have joined the fights.
Now there are two candidates who want to protect Bristow from data centers, so during the primary, people will have a choice.
Deshundra Jefferson's campaign is currently advertising with Bristow Beat. Stacy Shaw attended this event before Jefferson purchased advertising. The article seeks to explore how the data center debate has become a key issue for Bristow residents., while also introducing Jefferson's candidacy.
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