UPDATED: Prince William Board Approves Digital Gateway Data Centers

Board split over controversial 4:3 vote


The Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved the Prince William Digital Gateway rezoning via a vote of 4:3 this afternoon, following a meeting that lasted 27 hours. Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye-D abstained from the vote. 

Democrats Chair Ann Wheeler and Supervisors Margaret Franklin (Potomac), Angela Bailey (Woodbridge) and Victor Angry (Neabsco) voted in favor of the three data center applications. Republican Supervisors Bob Weir (Gainesville), Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville) and Yesli Vega (Coles) voted against them.

The Prince William Digital Gateway was an extremely controversial land-use application. It rezones 2,133 acres of environment conservation/estate land near the Manassas National Battlefield. The rezoning to light industrial  make way for 37 data center buildings on three campuses. 

The project did not receive the approval of the planning staff, nor the planning commission since that board only reviewed a previous draft of the application. 

Before the vote to approve, Weir called a vote to remand the project back to the planning commission due to lack of enforceable proffers and other unanswered questions.

Boddye shared Weir’s concerns including a lack of enforceable proffers.

"I’ve struggled with this one because there are so many inconsistencies,” Boddye said. “We are having to rely on good development partners. Are we able to mitigate the impacts of development? Is the applicant a good community partner? We are still getting a handle as we regulate the data center industry as a locality?"  he asked, calling data centers, “a largely unregulated industry.”

Despite Boddey's support Weir's "off-ramp" option failed four to four. 


Applicants QTS and Compass, both data center developers, proposed three data center campuses, with multiple buildings on multiple land bays. It would be the largest data center campus in the world, and place Prince William County on track to becoming the data center capital of the world. It would also expand Pageland Lane to a four-lane road. 

According to the county, the project would bring in billions of dollars over the long run and hundreds of millions each year. Loudoun County received $663 million in data center revenue in 2021. Even at a reduced rate, tax revenue is predicted to be a game changer for the county. 

However, controversial aspects of the plan are numerous. They include its proximity to the Manassas National Battlefield (a fraction of a mile) unknown effect on the electrical grid (likely the need for more tall high power lines and substations), effects on the viewshed near the battlefield and neighborhoods, noise pollution from multiple humming buildings, air pollution when the buildings test their diesel generators. Plus there will likely be unknown effects on landscape, wildlife, cultural resources, and drinking water from the Occoquan Reservoir.

There are also questions as to the accuracy of the predicted revenue.

Conservationists and residents alike opposed the project. Approximately 110 residents spoke against it and 150 for it. 

While some supervisors argued that "special interest groups," rallied against the application, the strongest proponents are Pageland landowners who are selling their land at $1 million per acre. 

The planning department did not recommend the application, believing the rezoning does not conform to the Comprehensive Plan, even as the comp plan was amended with the gateway center in mind. 

Planners said there were too many unknowns, and proffers that could not be guaranteed, especially when it came to powerlines which would be at the discretion of Dominion Energy and the State Corporation Commission. 

Lawson called the proposal “illustrious,” but there were no proffers behind the pictures.

However, the applicants felt they went above and beyond proffering acres of green space, a wildlife corridor, and historical and cultural resource centers where visitors can learn about the history of the area.

Additionally, they promised not to disturb historic graves, and found skeletons and artifacts. They proffered trails for hiking and horseback riding along the streams and said they would limit powerlines jetting along the open space whenever possible.

The preservation areas featured prominently on their map.


Bailey praised the cultural preservation, explaining it preserved African American history, Native American history and all historical periods until the present day.  

Landowners said while it is always possible there is something buried there, but they have not found it while farming the land for generations.

Supervisor Angry said he would vote to approve based upon the boom data centers would give the economy. The county was looking to grow its commercial tax base, which is sorely lacking, and this is the answer.  He also said it is the right spot because it is remote.

However, Weir criticized his colleagues for not requiring the applicant to meet their standards of land use. “You people who have been here for four years don’t know what your job is. It is to make certain the application computes with the zoning ordinance and the comp plan," he said. 

Weir blamed the applicant for having two and a half years and not providing the required information. And although hundreds of Gainesville residents favor of the project, based on the emails he received, thousands more are opposed.

Wheeler said she should have spoken up sooner to set the record straight. 

“We’re really at $40 billion,”  she said, explaining that the board raised the peripheral computer tax.  “Forty billion in investment that will be transformational.” She said some of that tax revenue would materialize in within two years. 

And she said if Prince William does not build it here another jurisdiction will. The county may still receive massive power lines, and the electric bills will increase all over the Commonwealth, regardless. Wouldn’t people rather their county have control of the project?

She pointed out the data centers would not be in the battlefield’s “backyard."Pageland landowner Mary Ann Ghadban noted there would be dozens of acres between the data centers and the battlefield, very different from the only 50 feet the county requires. 

Wheeler said she “naively” thought that the facts would speak for themselves. She said the opposition is made of 100 or so “obsessive” individuals who have controlled the narrative. 

She said retirees in  Heritage Hunt write multiple OpEd pieces. but refuse to work with the applicants. She dismissed environmental groups and rural citizens who do not want anything to go there ever.

Heritage Hunt activists did differ on the facts. They say Wheeler did not require the county to do a cost-benefit analysis and did not calculate the cumulative noise levels of multiple data centers throughout the Gainesville area. As such, there are many unknowns. 

But supervisors were not asked to vote on the project as presented the night before. After 24 hours of citizen’s time, QTS and Compass brought forth new proffer and strengthened existing proffer in response to feedback and criticism. This would typically be a good thing, but staff and some supervisors felt it was too late to evaluate amended proffers. 

One example is QTS's strengthening of proffer language regarding the placement of powerlines. However, it would have minimal impact as that is not a developer's decision.

Weir said he likes to review everything closely and did not have the time or the energy after an all-night meeting. A planning representative said the same and said the staff's recommendation to deny remains. 

Vega said that they are setting a dangerous precedent but promising applicants “the farm, moon and sky,” rather than sticking to their established policies.

After the failed vote to remand, Weir said he had no choice then, but to make a motion to deny all applications.

Supervisor Angry swiftly substituted a motion to approve all three applications.

Boddye then offered a second substitute motion to approve just Digital Gateway North and Compass. That would leave the southern gate, which is closest to the battlefield.  However, no one seconded that motion.

Instead, Boddye asked QTS's attorney if the developer could  reduce its FAR [Floor Plan Ratio.] The developer agreed to reduce it from .32 to .25 in the southern campus. That would leave even more open space between the digital gateway and the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Building height was already at 44 feet on that parcel, a total of 60 with a required paraffin. Data centers could be taller in other areas, but they would not be seen from the battlefield or Heritage Hunt. The buildings would be a neutral color so they faded into the background. 

Weir argued people in small communities may see the data centers from those campuses. 

After the final vote to approve, the supervisors adjourned. It was after 1 p.m., Wednesday. 


QTS emphasized the project's benefits to the county's tax base and its commitment to incorporating conservation efforts. 

QTS is grateful to Prince William County and the Board of Supervisors for entrusting us with stewardship of the Prince William Digital Gateway, which is projected to bring an estimated $500 million in annual tax revenue to the County," said a QTS executive." QTS will continue to work diligently with County staff, elected officials, and residents as it carries out its environmental and responsible development commitments. We are excited for this partnership to strengthen the Prince William community and bring increased local tax revenue and new job opportunities.” 

Meanwhile, the National Parks Conservation Association believes the supervisors showed disregard project and disrespected for the battlefield park. 

“This vote is a tremendous failure on the part of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors – one that will have lasting consequences for generations of Virginians. Giving developers the OK to build massive data centers in the shadow of Manassas National Battlefield Park is an insult to the thousands of lives lost here in two of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War," said Kyle Hart Mid-Atlantic Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

"It’s a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of people who come from all over the world to visit the battlefield every year, searching for solace and meaning on these hallowed grounds."

data centers, Digital Gateway, vote, Board of County Supervisors, Bob Weir, Manassas National Battlefield, Bull Run, Pageland Lane, Gainesville, Prince William County, land use, Ann Wheeler