Thanks to Supervisor Jeanine Lawson for this important update:
In another late night, 5-3 vote, Chair Ann Wheeler and Supervisors Angry, Bailey, Boddye, and Franklin approved the Independent Hill Small Area Plan that removes land from the Rural Crescent. What is especially troubling is 41 of those acres are planned for intense commercial use, such as a data center complex. Furthermore, this parcel is directly adjacent to Prince William Forest Park (PWFP), a 14,000-acre national park. We are fortunate in our county to house this treasure which is the second-most pristine forest in the United States. Within the park is Quantico Creek which is known to be the cleanest stream in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Never before have I seen such a diverse coalition of bipartisan elected officials at every level of government and nonpartisan organizations unite to protect our greatest natural resource. Advocates to stop this destructive development plan include:
Hundreds of citizens
Congressman Rob Wittman (R)
Virginia State Senator John Bell (D)
Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D)
National Parks Conservation Association
Prince William Conservation Alliance
Coalition to Protect Prince William County
Piedmont Environmental Council
Mid County Civic Association
Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association
Virginia Native Plants Society
This strong coalition wrote letters, hundreds of emails and/or spoke at the hearing, including a letter from Congressman Wittman. Repeatedly, people expressed environmental concerns of expanding intense commercial development into our rural area, and especially next to PWFP. Although the National Park Service cannot give an official position, through a letter and in person testimony, the park superintendent conveyed concerns that the stormwater runoff will damage Quantico Creek. He also said a development of this size will introduce invasive plant species due to the clearing and grading so close to the park. These long- lasting effects will inevitably complicate the park’s ecosystem and cause habitat loss. Understandably, the Park Service fears the diminishing appeal Prince William Forest Park will have on its annual 400,000 local and national visitors, not to mention the economic loss. I think the most compelling statement in the park superintendent’s letter was “While the County’s Staff Report indicates that ‘A minor adjustment to the rural boundary is being made,’ the precedent of opening the Rural Area to more intense development could affect the park for decades.” Sadly, all of these concerns fell on deaf ears.
Also nearby is Quantico Marine Base. During the public hearing, the base commander phoned in and made his concerns very clear. He warned us any development encroaching near Quantico Marine Corps Base could impact his ability to conduct large training exercises crucial to our national security. Concerns here were dismissed as well.
Chair Wheeler and Supervisors Angry, Bailey, Boddye and Franklin remained unmoved, disregarding the numerous red flags. This irresponsible vote not only chiseled away at the Rural Crescent, but it also opened the door to more commercial and industrial development in this protected area. To take it a step further, Supervisors Angry and Bailey intend to completely transform the rural area with data centers and high-density housing.
My colleagues are attempting to justify their vote under a false premise. Their justification that the approved plan will permanently preserve 120 acres is flawed. The county cannot force parcel owners to preserve land, therefore their vote does not guarantee a certain amount of preserved land. As a matter of fact, when I met with the landowners last week, they clearly stated their plan is to develop the majority of the 160 acres for data centers.
No surprise, there is already another proposal to put 800 acres of data centers directly adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield, and I anticipate proposals for data centers along Vint Hill Road. I cannot emphasize enough the devastating effects these absurd development plans would have on our landscape, tourism, environment, and housing values in the rural area.
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors has a responsibility to protect the environmentally rich, aesthetically beautiful, and historical portions of the county; as well as encourage economic development in areas already planned and equipped with infrastructure for such use. Prince William does not need to convert rural areas into industrial and commercial land use. We can have strong commercial economic development in the properly designated areas, as I have proven with the $4.5 billion dollars of investment that I have welcomed into the Brentsville District over the past 6 years. All of this was done without developing the rural area. I am once again disappointed in my colleagues who voted in favor of this plan, against the recommendations of nationwide and local environmental experts.