If the wealthy developers of Pageland Lane are to be believed, the so-called ‘PW Digital Gateway’ would return millions to our county coffers, reverse inequitable land use policies and close the wealth gap. between blacks and whites.
These false promises are based on false premises.
The county’s rural crescent was created in 1998 to protect farmland and limit suburban sprawl. Land zoned A-1, or for agricultural use, allows only one single-family dwelling per 10 acres. This particular zoning the designation has become a flashpoint given the push for more affordable housing throughout the county.
The PW digital gateway does nothing to create fair housing in the county. Instead, the project would trade farmland for data centers. It’s a sleight of hand that should be noted, given that candidates for the PW digital gateway lean heavily on the argument that A-1 zoning contributes to segregation. If Pageland landowners truly believe that A-1 zoning is an exclusionary practice – a practice that has long served them well – then why sell their land to data centers?
The Digital Gateway website says data centers are the better bet than housing, a win-win that would create “thousands of jobs over 15-20 years in construction and establish a permanent tech workforce” . Using language reminiscent of social justice activism, the website says this project “can create a level playing field for all PWC residents.”
Creating opportunities does not necessarily create access. There is no guarantee that these jobs would employ people of color, nor any assurance that future employees would receive prevailing union wages in a red-leaning, right-to-work state.
Specifically: those jobs may never materialize.
Data Center Dynamics, an industry trade publication, clearly stated that, “[J]ob have always been a weak incentive for communities to accept data center proposals – the facilities just don’t require a lot of people compared to, say, a manufacturing plant. The vast majority of jobs come in about the first year, during the construction phase, with a large number of those who are out-of-state contractors.
Time magazine explored the impact of data centers on small towns. Some key takeaways: Data center owners are increasingly relying on temporary contractors rather than full-time employees and are “extremely aggressive when it comes to getting concessions from elected officials” .
Even Loudoun County, which has been at the forefront of data center development, faced a massive $60 million budget shortfall due to a sharp and unexpected drop in data center tax revenue.
It’s unclear what Prince William would do upright take advantage of the PW digital gateway, and its potential pitfalls deserve a closer look.
This proposal would essentially greenlight the controversial Bi-County Parkway, also known as the “outer Beltway.” The Bi-County Parkway would create a new truck route connecting the cargo facilities at Dulles International Airport to Interstate 95 via Va. 23 or Dumfries Road.
There are four schools along Virginia 234, including the Washington-Reid Preschool that serves at-risk 4-year-olds and those with developmental delays, and many residential neighborhoods that would be affected if the Outer Ring Road goes ahead.
There are also serious environmental concerns associated with the rezoning, primarily the impact on drinking water from Occoquan Reservoir near Woodbridge and Beaverdam Reservoir near Ashburn.
According to the Prince William Conservation Alliance, “[O]see half of Prince William County’s total population, located generally in the eastern part of the county, depends on the Occoquan Reservoir for approximately 17 million gallons of drinking water each day. Prince William County’s own environmental experts have recommended that the Prince William County Board of Supervisors reject plans to rezone this land.
Supervisors must resist giving in to what seems easy. Board Chair Ann Wheeler told The Washington Post that “just saying, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’ is not responsible governance.” A quick win can smooth the path to re-election, but responsible governance requires tough choices. Far too many organizations – including the Virginia Department of Forestry – have raised serious concerns about this proposal that should not be ignored.
And, if we really want to look at this issue from an equity perspective, then we duty asking who gets the most from property tax relief. A 2020 study found that black and Hispanic homeowners like me “typically bear a 10% to 13% higher property tax burden than white residents.” And few, if any, owners would want actually reduce rent simply because they pay less property tax.
The more one delves into this proposition, the less fair it appears. Buzzwords like equity and inclusion are clearly being used to make this more palatable – and easier to silence those who oppose it.
Deshundra Jefferson is a resident of Montclair and a former co-chair of the Potomac Magistrate District Democratic Committee.