Stanley Martin Tries to Sell Bristow Residents on Devlin Tech Park, but Residents Aren't Buying It

A public hearing on the Devlin Tech Park is scheduled for Feb. 7


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Stanley Martin Companies usually builds homes, but this week its VP of Land tried to convince Northern Virginia residents that a data center campus of fourteen 90-foot buildings next to their homes and schools will benefit their community. 

Stanley Martin Homes owns 270 acres of land along Devlin Road and Linton Hall Road in Bristow. Last evening, Young held one of three presentations to residents of the communities of Victory Lakes, Sheffield Manor, Crossman’s Creek, Silver Leaf Estates, and Amberleigh Station. 

Approximately 150 residents sat in the grey conference room as J. Truett Young, VP of Land for Northern Virginia,  rushed through slides (he told people not to photograph) as he attempted to highlight the benefits of the proposed Devlin Technology Park data center campus. 

Residents were not having any of it. 

Western Prince William County residents have soured on the idea of data centers the more they have learned about them, and the more they have been told they really ought to want them. 

This particular data center has the same issues as its neighbor behind Amberleigh Station in Bristow. The campus would hold thirteen to fourteen 80-105 foot high buildings. Tree buffers are just 100 feet near schools and neighborhoods, and the center abuts right up against the Chris Yung Elementary School's parking lot. 

Young tried to highlight the positive aspects of the development and the reasons it makes sense for the county. It is surrounded by industrial development on two sides with the electrical infrastructure needed. The data centers would bring in millions of tax revenue to the county and new jobs.

But residents countered every point Young made. 

Those who had been following the development of data centers in Bristow urged residents to take a stand: to speak at the Prince William County Supervisors’ Public Hearing on Feb, 7, and to write their supervisors, letting them know they oppose the rezoning.

'If they don't hear from us, they are going to say we are fine with it,' someone told the crowd. 

Young indicated the problem was not with Stanley Martin's acquisition but what their elected leaders have allowed. 

“This is not a Devlin Road issue; this is an area issue,” he said. “Find common ground,” he said, noting it probably won’t be the last data center asking to be located near homes. 

But Stanley Martin does not have its data center yet. The land is still zoned residential.

The Board of County Supervisors changed the intended designation to “industrial” on its 2040 Comprehensive,  a guide for future development. No amendment was detailed; the property simply appeared a different color on the map within a massive digital document. Yet, it paved the way for the residentially zoned area to flip to industrial. 

Before 2021 no one saw this coming. In January 2020, the board approved Stanley Martin's application to build 519 single-family homes, then Stanley Martin withdrew its proposal.

In 2021, supervisors approved a data center campus on the western portion of the Hunter property despite its proximity to homes and schools. Stanley Martin Homes also saw the lucrative opportunity to sell its land to data center developers.

In August 2022, the Prince William Planning Commission recommended the rezoning of the Devlin property for a large data center campus. Brentsville commissioner Tom Gordy approved it with the caveat that the data center would need to conduct a sound study before building and after operation to keep noise levels at or below county noise ordinances.

Noise issues were a chief concern among residents because data center HVAC systems emit a loud ugly roar. But last night, they doubted any noise ordinance or mitigation would be sufficient. The current noise ordinance excludes HVAC systems and violators only get a $500 fine. According to Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega, Amazon Data Center in Manassas told her they do not have to quiet their facility. 

Dr. John Lyver, a scientist who ran mathematical models for NASA, claimed noise would reach 80 decibels outside Chris Yung Elementary School. That is the equivalent of a motorcycle engine within feet of the listener. The sound would be louder at night.

The low hum of the data centers' HVAC systems is perpetual and at a frequency, the brain cannot tune out. Such noises are unhealthy for mental and physical health. With so many data buildings clustered together, the noise amplifies. 

Lyver said it would cost $20 million to retrofit an elementary school to reduce the noise level to 35 decibels inside a classroom. Gainesville High School, Gainesville Middle School, Bristow Run Elementary School, Piney Branch Elementary School, and Victory Elementary School would likely all need to add sound muffling systems.

But Young thought that sound would not be an issue if the supervisors approved proper mitigations. Young said Prince William Supervisors and Planning Staff have been working to try to strengthen its noise ordinance and it will announce before the Feb. 7 meeting.

And there are many ways by which data buildings can operate more quietly. They can utilize different technologies rather than external HVAC and/or install infrastructure to muffle the cooling noise. He told Bristow Beat residents should focus on making sure those protections are in place. 

 But the immediate noise will not be the humming. Large data centers are not built overnight. Construction could last as long as 20 years, and the construction will be noisy. First, there will be the blasting, then construction using heavy machinery. 

Young said blasting would flatten the land, resulting in the buildings not appearing so tall. Young mock-up images showed buildings would appear low from existing neighborhoods and be hidden by tree lines.

While trees make excellent sound barriers, Young said they are intended to protect the view shed. In Manassas, some residents of the Great Oak community can hear one building through 600 feet of trees. The trees around Devlin will lose their leaves in the winter (making them much less effective at absorbing sound.) Stanley Martin agreed to plant new evergreens but not mature trees, saying they should grow by the time the data buildings are complete. 

There was disagreement over whether the existing electrical infrastructure will be sufficient. Young claimed it would be, but Dr. Lyver said if one looks at it holistically all the new data centers would exceed what the grid could handle. Ratepayers pay for new infrastructure.

At the beginning of the meeting, Young emphasized the economic benefits of having data centers rather than new homes. Data centers would bring in revenue and homes would require new classrooms and services.

But residents did not want to hear it. They have heard all of the arguments before during the debate over the Prince William Digital Gateway. 

They argued most of the jobs that would be created are temporary construction jobs that hire people from out of state. Young estimated there would be 650 new jobs, but residents thought that was a high estimate. 

“What will it do to our property values?” someone asked. Young did not have an answer.

“Would you want to live in a home surrounded by 14 data centers?” Someone asked. Young said he was not going to answer that question. One real estate agent said that existing homes near Ashburn data centers had trouble selling.

Someone said that rural areas in Virginia want the data centers and yet they are all being placed in Western Prince William where people do not want them.

When Bristow Beat asked if the hearing should be deferred until a Gainesville Supervisor is elected and seated, Young said it is not necessary as Brentsville has its supervisor. Young also told Bristow Beat that if the proposal is denied Stanley Martin does not plan to go back to building homes on the property. 

The third Stanley Martin presentation is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Thursday at the Springhill Suites in Gainesville.

Prince William County has not yet published the new version of the Devlin Technology Park planning documents with new proffer mitigations. 

There will be a Brentsville Town Hall at Chris Yung Elementary School at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2. The public hearing time is 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the McCoart Building in Lake Ridge. People need to sign up to speak so they should arrive early. Residents will be organizing an approach to demonstrate their opposition to the data center park. 

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