Protect Prince William Forest [National!] Park
On March 16 2021, by a 5-3 vote the Board of Supervisors approved the Independent Hill Small Area Plan. This vote changed the Comprehensive Plan to allow industrial development on a property that is both inside the legislative border of National Park and in the Rural Crescent.
Before the proposed data center can move forward, the Board of Supervisors must now approve a rezoning and a Special Use permit for the property. Please stay tuned for more information on how you can help protect Prince William Forest Park.
What's the Problem?
The Independent Hill SAP is located on both sides of Route 234 in the vicinity of the Prince William County landfill. This area is mostly undeveloped, with significant environmental and cultural resources that offer an opportunity to create a sense of place in keeping with the character of the surrounding area.
But the staff proposal overlooks the value of existing resources and instead proposes a dense community in a semi-rural area with overcrowded schools and no hopes for public transit in the foreseeable future. Although the surrounding homes are mostly on 1-5 acre lots, the plan includes up to 200 homes on ¼ acre-or-less lots and up to 2.25 million square feet of non-residential space.
This Small Area Plan also includes 160+ acres that are in (1) the Rural Crescent, (2) the legislative boundary of Prince William Forest [National] Park, AND (3) cover the headwaters of Quantico Creek.
County staff is proposing to re-plan this 160+acres, with the intent to allow construction of a data center or office building in the Rural Crescent, adjacent to a national park.
Protect Prince William Forest [National!] Park
The permanent conservation of this 160 acres for purposes of expanding protection for the Prince William Forest [National!] Park (PWFP) landscape is a worthy priority and urgently needed.
PWFP protects the largest piedmont forest in the National Park Service and the largest green space in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. It captures the transition from Coastal Plain to Piedmont ecosystems; its value to current and future research is significant and will continue to grow over time.
Every year 350,000 visit Prince William Forest [National] Park. In 2018, those park visitors spent an estimated $17.9 million in local gateway communities. These expenditures supported 219 jobs and $23.8 million in economic output in the local area.
Protect Quantico Creek
PWFP also protects nearly 80% of the Quantico Creek watershed, which flows directly into the Potomac River and is commonly used as a reference stream in Northern Virginia. Quantico Creek has been classified by several studies as one of the highest quality and most biologically diverse streams in the northern Virginia area. The stream's water quality is used as a baseline for the study of other streams in the region under development pressure.
The preservation of properties within the legislative boundaries of Prince William Forest Park (PWFP) would enhance and protect both the watershed and public values of this very special public landscape.
Protect the Rural Crescent
The Rural Crescent is a smart growth tools that helps the County minimize the negative financial impacts of sprawl development. Rural Crescent properties drain into the Occoquan Reservoir; it is critical to protecting our public drinking water supply.
Countless government-led round tables and community-led forums demonstrate that the majority of residents understand these benefits and support the growth boundary that allows the County to invest in the development area.
Data Centers belong in the overlay district and not in rural areas whose sole attraction to the developer is cheap price of agriculturally zoned green field land.
Prince William County (PWC) adopted a Data Center Opportunity Overlay District after the chaos resulting from an outdated land use policy that permitted data centers by right in all commercial zoning designations. As a result of that zoning, the unique power infrastructure requirements of data centers created negative impacts on surrounding communities.
To ensure future data centers were compatible with adjacent uses, 10,000 acres was identified by Planning Staff, Dominion Energy, the PWC Chamber of Commerce Northern Virginia Technology Council, and Community Organizations.
However, the newly created category of Public Facility/Office and Technology/Flex allows for Data Centers outside the overlay district, thus creating the potential to repeat the mistakes the newly overlay district intended to preclude.
Data Centers have a significant footprint, half a million sq feet or more, with a substation need and access to high voltage transmission lines for power.
To put a data center campus in the Rural Crescent, requiring the razing of a mature landscape and in direct proximity to the Prince William Forest Park forests and headwater streams, is the antithesis of good planning practice. Prince William County should be leading the charge to ensure data center placement is an asset to the community and in the right location.
The landfill is right across the street from the 160+ acres and it is in the overlay district (see map above). The negative impact of a data center on a landfill are minimal at worst.
Destroying green open space to allow for an intensive industrial use that is the fastest growing consumer of energy is not forward thinking. Prince William County should serve as a model that demonstrates how a jurisdiction can protect the environment, consider climate change seriously, while at the same time incorporating 21st century data needs in the appropriate locations. Data Centers belong in the overlay district and not in rural areas where the sole attraction to the developer is cheap price of agriculturally zoned green field land.
Prince William Forest Park by the numbers:
- Largest natural area in Northern Virginia
- 350,000 annual visitors on average
- In 2018, those park visitors spent an estimated $17.9 million in local gateway communities. These expenditures supported 219 jobs and $23.8 million in economic output in the local area.
- 40 miles of hiking trails, 27 miles of biking trails
- 5 historic cabin camps for rental by groups and families
- 100-site tent/small RV campground, 140-person group campground
- 72-site RV campground, 8 primitive backcountry camp sites
Board of County Supervisors Vote: March 16, 2021
Action! Contact Supervisors to share your views. Attend the meeting and speak at the public hearing, register here.
Read the staff report here.