Opinion: Extra tax money from data centers will not make up for the permanent scarring of our county

Marilyn Karp, a long time activist in the Democratic Party leads residents gathered at the Prince William County Government Center to call for Board of Supervisors Chair At-large Ann Wheeler (D) to resign after she dumped $50,000 of stock in data center firms.

By Tom Coyle

It seems clear to us that, as a group, our local elected leaders in Prince William County appear to be struggling to make decisions regarding the long-term strategic use of a scarce resource — our land.

Such land use decisions are critical to ensuring our county will be one that continues to attract new residents and new businesses and retains the current attributes that attracted current residents to move here.

The single issue of large data centers in proximity to residences is a complex one that crosses into hotly debated topics such as taxable revenue, open space and zoning use, and increased pressure to balance green space use and residential growth.

Although the various zoning laws, layover grids, etc., can be confusing and even contradictory, what’s clear is that no one, either elected or County Staff, seems to have heard of Moore’s Law.  And if they have, they have failed to take it into account as it applies to these large buildings now popping up throughout our county, large parts of which are rural or semi-rural.

Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (IC) doubles about every two years. Moore’s Law is an observation and projection of a historical trend. Rather than a law of physics, it is an empirical relationship linked to gains from experience in production.

It is understood the interior of these centers consists mainly of computer servers and racks, which, if we apply Moore’s Law, will shrink in size and thus need less space to operate.  What happens in 10 or 20 years when the requirement for these 500,000 square foot buildings is no more?  What incentive can our county offer a private company to continue to occupy a space that is not needed in order to operate and make a profit?

Why would they wish to occupy a 500,000 sqaure-foot space when, due to said law, they would only need a quarter or less of that space?  Who do the citizens then turn to to raze the building and restore the area to its original nature?

All the extra tax monies from these centers will not make up for the permanent scarring of our county.  Why can’t we analyze best practices from other municipalities around the country and then apply the best of those to use as a framework?

Has any elected official, or county staff, examined the second and third-order effects of approving the construction of these buildings and thus degrading one significant reason citizens move to Pricne William – high quality of life

We implore our county-elected leaders to slow down and demand a thoughtful, factual review of these proposals from staff.  If we don’t have the expertise in-house, then hire a well-respected national company to conduct it.

There is no rush to carefully consider all aspects of this issue, given the lasting impact it will have for years to come.  Perceived short-term gains (more money in our county coffers) we believe defines false economy and reminds us of the family cat being happily distracted by that new shiny object right in front of her to the exclusion of anything else.

We hope the elected leaders in Prince William County will reflect for a moment on why they ran for office in the first place: to help enrich the lives of the citizens they serve by thoughtful and informed decisions affecting all of us for generations to come.

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