PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (DC News Now) — Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors will be able to continue public hearings on land use items in the period between Election Day and Dec. 31 when the terms of the outgoing members of the board expire.

It comes after the controversial 5-3 vote to kill a land use projects proposal, the Prince William Digital Gateway, was brought forward by Republican Supervisor Jeanine Lawson to bar the hearings in that time frame.

The project proposal has divided some residents in the area — over a year after it started community engagement meetings as early as January 2022.

The plan aimed to transform 2,000 acres into a data center hub.

The group, Coalition to Protect Prince William County, demonstrated ahead of the vote.

Elena Schlossberg, one of the organizers, pointed to similarities between the proposed resolution and a resolution unanimously passed by the board in 2020 to pause land-use decision-making during a lame-duck period.

“It’s nonpartisan. The people who showed up today crossed party lines, crossed religion, crossed socio-economic boundaries, crossed raced, it’s cross-county. And these are the people who are staying — these are the people that are fighting not only for their homes but for the future,” Schlossberg told DC News Now.

John Bower, who is in talks with data center developers to sell his 130-acre farm, addressed the board in opposition to the resolution. He said the current board has worked on data center development for years and should continue to make decisions that impact the potential of the Digital Gateway project.

Under the current Rural Crescent zoning plan, he said he can sell his farm for $2-$3 million. If the board approves data center development plans, though, he said he could sell for more than 10 times that amount.  

He said that delaying further action only hurts him and his neighbors.

“Nobody wants to do anything to their property, because, you know, we could potentially be selling it,” Bower said.

He said he’s ready to retire and leave the area.

“We’re done farming,” he said. “Actually, we only farm because the county basically has a gun to your head saying ‘if you don’t farm you’ve got to pay a higher tax rate.'”

Following the vote, Lawson spoke to reporters and described her surprise at the outcome.

“I’m stunned that [Democratic Supervisors Kenny Boddye and Andrea Bailey] voted party line for something they know is going to cause a lot of heat come this fall,” she said.

She predicted potential political consequences in those districts, similar to what happened with Chair Ann Wheeler, who lost her re-election bid during the primary stage to Deshundra Jefferson.

Wheeler said she voted in favor of it because she felt that it was “pretty simple.”

“We needed to continue governing until the end of the year,” Wheeler said.       

Both Wheeler and Lawson were asked whether they believe a public hearing for the PW Digital Gateway would be held before 2024, when the new board is seated.

“I’m just waiting for it to get to the Planning Commission, so I don’t think that’s anytime before the summer,” Wheeler said. “After the summer I’m sure we’ll hear how they’re doing.”

Lawson said if it’s “handled properly” the project should not come up for a vote.

“Right now we have a chair that is so bought and paid for by the data development,” Lawson said. “I won’t put anything past her. So I say to everybody stay vigilant.”