Opinion: Weir’s landslide election a referendum on data centers, but taxpayers still need a break


Call it a canary in the coal mine. Call it the result of years of residents pleading for their local leaders to hear them. Call it a referendum on data centers.

Whatever you call it, the landslide election of Bob Weir to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors with more than 60% of the vote should serve as a wake-up call to those in power in not only Prince William County but those who see data centers as a cash cow for their respective jurisdictions.

Over the past two years, residents in the Gainesville District have watched time and again as elected leaders ignore their pleas to not clear-cut some of the last remaining rural lands in Northern Virginia for flex warehouse space, data centers, an asphalt plant, or myriad other developments sold to them as a way to increase the county’s commercial tax base.

They’ve watched elected leaders campaign on rural preservation, only to perform an about-face when elected and clear the way for more residential development, in the name of equity, on the land they promised to preserve.

On February 7, 2023, 90 Gainesville-area residents spoke against rezoning land for 14 data centers next to hundreds of homes at Linton Hall and Devlin roads. Only five union labor representatives spoke in favor of the project. The meeting lasted until 2:30 a.m.

Afterward, Republicans motioned to deny the rezoning request after hours of public outcry. Democrats killed the motion, keeping the project alive.

It was then residents saw their elected leaders for what they were — caterers to labor unions that have injected tens of thousands of dollars into their campaigns, pushing for more data centers at any cost.

From what we can tell, at least the landowner heard the people and has asked the Board of County Supervisors to defer its decision until a date unknown.

The people in Prince William County are awake; Democrats crossed party lines to elect Weir. I can back up that claim, as I spoke with many conservationists who, over the years, have rallied the vote for Democrats. However, this year, they not only showed up on Election Day for the Republican but also participated in his nomination process in January.

The same distrust and the matching of strange political bedfellows will occur elsewhere if localities like Stafford County, now in data center developer’s crosshairs, follow the Prince William County “data center anywhere” playbook.

However, now the question for Weir and others is: Where should data centers and other commercial development go? It’s no longer good enough to say, “not here, or not over there.”

Though Kerensa Sumers, the Democrat who lost to Weir on Tuesday, incorrectly stated the $4.20 per $100 data center tax rate for Loudoun County when comparing it to the $1.65 rate in Prince William, and then doubled down on the error when pressed, she got one thing right: You can’t continue to lead and grow the state’s second-largest jurisdiction from a position of “no, we can’t do that” or, even worse, “no, we won’t.”

And, frankly, it’s sad to hear residents who once fought mixed-use housing developments like Stonehaven, where they want to build those 14 data centers on Devlin Road, come back to the microphone and say, “we’ve changed our minds: now we want the houses, just not the data centers.”

Prince William County needs more commercial businesses to lessen the tax burden on the over-taxed homeowners. That’s something we’ve known for at least five years since the county’s strategic plan committee created the “moonshot” goal of increasing the county’s commercial tax base by 35%.

Democrats on the Board of County Supervisors know this and, since 2020, have never met a tax increase they didn’t like. The county needs a better plan on where to build data centers involving public input.

How many all-day town hall meetings and “charettes” did the county government hold over the past 15 years to discuss “small area plans” and the long-talked-about “vision” for North Woodbridge or the Rural Crescent boundary line?  Quite a few — at least one in every corner of the county.

How many did it hold to seek input for data centers?  Very few, if any at all.

If they held the meetings, someone might say, build data centers inside the “data center overlay” district with ample power and water. Build them in industrial areas or in brown spots like old shopping centers along highways.

County leaders have long called for continuing to develop the eastern side of the county, in Dumfries, and Woodbridge, along the Interstate 95 corridor. Build them there and build them taller if space is an issue.

We hear former Deputy County Executive Rebecca Horner has been sent back to the county planning department after several recent departures we told you about last week. She’s familiar with the planning office — she ran the place until she was promoted to deputy county executive in 2020. She may right the ship and create a plan because she’s one of the few people still around with institutional knowledge.

Homeowners — who continue to carry the burden of the cost of local government and schools — deserve a break.

Property taxes have increased year-over-year for the past 10 years (does it really matter if politicians “lower” the tax rate if the tax bill increases?), and they levied a meals tax on anything you buy at a restaurant, without holding a public hearing, despite having a $30 million surplus.

The people have spoken. Will those in power listen?

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Potomac District Community Town Hall

Potomac District community town hall-County officials and Supervisor Bailey will give important updates regarding the happenings in the district relative to transportation, social services, planning, and future projects.

Van Metre 5K Run

Calling all serious runners, occasional joggers, and weekend walkers of all levels! Participate in the 31st Annual Van Metre 5K Run supporting Children’s National Hospital–the event that goes a long way!

Date: Saturday, April 29, 2023
Time: 8:30AM
Location: Broadlands


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