Virginia county approves massive data center project despite pushback from concerned residents

County supervisors in northern Virginia approved one of the world’s largest data center projects after a public hearing that ran through the night and lasted more than 24 hours.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted 4-3, with one abstention, in favor of the Digital Gateway project, which would bring as many as 37 data centers over about 2,000 acres in the western part of the county, not far from Manassas National Battlefield.

The final vote came Wednesday afternoon, 27 hours after the public hearing first began Tuesday morning.

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The project drew significant community opposition from residents concerned about the environmental impact of the project, including noise, the need for electricity and high-voltage transmission lines, and the possibility that it would damage views of the battlefield.

The project also had supporters who touted the benefit to the county’s tax base. Developers of the project sought to allay concerns with promises to build community trails and parks and mitigate environmental concerns.

The vote in favor of the Digital Gateway came despite a recommendation from the county planning commission that the project be rejected.

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The deciding vote in favor of the project came from outgoing Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler, who lost her reelection bid in the Democratic primary to a data center opponent.

The scope of the project was modified slightly in Wednesday’s vote to restrict the parcel closest to the battlefield.

Data centers, which house the computers and servers necessary to facilitate cloud computing and modern internet use, have faced backlash from neighbors as they proliferate across the country. Opposition has been acute in northern Virginia, a preferred site for data centers because of the region’s proximity to the internet infrastructure that has historically been clustered here.

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Industry advocates say they have worked hard to reduce the environmental impact of the centers, and local governments have turned the data centers into cash cows. Loudoun County, which neighbors Prince William and has long been a data center hub, now draws 30% of its general fund budget from data centers.

Prince William County projects the data centers will generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in tax revenue.

Last year, the board of supervisors cleared the path for Wednesday’s vote by rezoning the land after a public hearing that lasted more than 12 hours.

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