Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityVa. state lawmakers propose bill banning data centers near historic landmarks | WJLA
Close Alert

Va. state lawmakers propose bill banning data centers near historic landmarks

Prince William County neighbors are furious massive data centers might soon be less than 100 feet away from their homes. (7News)
Prince William County neighbors are furious massive data centers might soon be less than 100 feet away from their homes. (7News)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon
Comment bubble

In the latest chapter of a fierce battle over possible new data centers in Prince William County, state lawmakers are stepping in with a bill that could have an impact on a major project if passed into law.

Back in November, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved by a 5-2 vote changes to land use rules for a specific plot of land that's more than 4 million square feet near Manassas Battlefield and several homes, allowing industrial developments like data centers there instead of just homes, as originally zoned. This vote opened the door for data centers to be built, as mapped out in the proposed Prince William Digital Gateway plan.

Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, has filed a bill - Senate Bill 1078 - that would ban data centers from being built "within one mile of a national park or state park or other historically significant site, as designated by the Department of Historic Resources."

RELATED | Prince William County neighbors fighting data centers, pushing for limits on buildings

"That would deal with the Digital Gateway data centers coming down Pageland that would basically be lined up adjacent to Manassas Battlefield. I would prohibit that, flat out prohibit," Petersen said. "I said, 'Hold on, they're going to be siting data centers here?' While this is all going on, of course the data centers, by and large, are built for bitcoin mining. It's effectively a site where they're running these bitcoin mines and generating whatever that is. Meanwhile, I look around and the crypto industry is not the most stable in the world, and yet we're making all these investments and tearing up farm land and all of these historic spaces. What can go wrong? I just really wanted to pump the brakes on this."

The board of supervisors have not approved any specific plans for the construction of data centers at this point.

Still, Dr. Steve Pleickhardt, who lives near this piece of land, has remained vocal in his opposition to their November vote and is applauding a bill filed down in Richmond that would limit the construction of data centers here.

"It's an insult to our history, to let these people build right there, these huge behemoth buildings right on the border of the battlefield," Pleickhardt said. "We're not against data centers in the proper zoning, away from homes, away from people, away from historic monuments. Put them anywhere else. But keep them away from people and these historic marks."

Now, Pleickhardt said he's hopeful data centers will not be so close to his home.

READ MORE | Prince William Co board vote in favor of controversial data center after overnight meeting

"I'm thrilled we have politicians now waking up to what's going on in Prince William County with our rogue supervisors who just want to put these data centers for money and greed anywhere in the county, next to homes - 100 feet from homes - affecting men, women, and children," Pleickhardt said.

Pleickhardt organized protests when the board of supervisors discussed the land use rule changes.

In particular, he and other neighbors said they were worried about the noise if data centers were allowed to be built 100 feet of homes like the land use rules allow.

Petersen's bill, as currently constructed, does not mention anything about requiring minimum distances between data centers and homes. It focuses on the historic landmarks, which comes with a warning from Petersen to anyone considering building a data center near Manassas Battlefield or other historically significant

"If you're a property owner out there and you're thinking of buying land to put in a data center, you might want to pay attention to my bill because you could be buying yourself into a problem. Once state law changes, if you didn't have your zoning at that point, you don't have vested rights," Petersen said. "I'm not looking to burn somebody who has invested a couple million dollars in property, but what I am looking to do is put the brakes on this whole process."

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved the land use rule change in November after a public hearing spanning more than 14 hours, filled with neighbors slamming the plan during the public comment period.

SEE ALSO | As data centers proliferate, Prince William County neighbors knock the noise

However, this plan also had many supporters pointing out the economic benefits to new data centers.

Petersen said it is important to weigh the potential economic benefits with the environmental harm also associated with such projects.

"Everyone thinks it's free money. It's not free. I think the revenue outflow - I don't want to say overrated - is temporary. I think the buildings depreciate pretty fast, and you're stuck with these buildings that could be obsolete," Petersen said.

7News reached out to each member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to ask for their reaction to Petersen's bill and how this could affect the Prince William Digital Gateway plan.

Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, one of the only two members to vote against the land use rule changes, was the only supervisor to respond to 7News. She provided the following statement:

As a county supervisor, it's certainly peculiar to support Chapman's bill that restricts my own zoning authority, however, this proposed law may be our last hope. The majority of my colleagues have opened Pandora's Box with their record of votes for unchecked data center development while ignoring testimony from thousands of citizens, National Park superintendents, water experts, environmentalists and more.

Petersen has also introduced a resolution to run a study on data centers, to determine their impact on the electric grid, water, and neighborhoods.

In the meantime, Pleickhardt said he hopes amendments are added to the bill to extend the ban of data centers to areas close to homes.

MORE | Prince William Co. board votes in favor of land use charter for controversial data center

"I'm hoping we can amend the bills. I'm hoping we can prevent them from building next to residential communities. Prohibit that. Currently, there's no law in the books that prohibits that," Pleickhardt said.

Petersen did not rule out this possibility.

"Right now, we're still in the first few days of session. I look on this as a journey. I file a piece of legislation because I target an issue I think is important, and it's got to get through the Senate. It's gotta go to the House. I'm sure it will be amended, and then it will go to the governor, who's going to have the final say. Along the way, we're trying to build momentum," Petersen said. "I put a mile down as kind of a marker. You can make it three miles. You can make it five miles. You also can say, 'Look, if you're going to site a data center, you need environmental protections baked in, you need water protections baked in, you need noise limitations baked in. There's all sorts of things we need to add. I realize a lot of people will say that's a local zoning issue. Well, it is to a point. Diminishing farm land and diminishing water, and preservation of battlefields and historic sites, those are state issues. My job is to protect the state."

Comment bubble

The bill and resolution still need to go through several steps, including committee floor votes in both the Senate and House of Delegates, before making it to Gov. Youngkin's desk.

Loading ...