January 25, 2022
Chair Wheeler and Members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors,
I am writing you today on behalf of the Coalition to Protect Americas National Parks, a non-profit organization composed of more than 2,100 retired, former and current employees of the National Park Service (NPS), who collectively have over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting national parks. We believe that our parks and public lands represent the very best of America, and advocate for their protection. Coalition members strive to apply their experience, credibility, and integrity by supporting the National Park Service mission, and by speaking out for national park solutions that uphold the law and apply sound science.
I would like to express our concerns regarding the study to change the adopted Comprehensive Plan of Prince William County, Virginia (the “CPA”) to allow for intensive development along Pageland Lane, adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park (the Park) and for subsequent rezoning to allow the current proposal for a 2,133-acre data center along Pageland Lane.
Manassas National Battlefield Park includes some 5,071 acres and is visited by over 600,000 people each year. It is a central part of Prince William County’s heritage and an important part of our nation’s heritage. The two battles of Manassas, fought 13 months apart on the same grounds, reflect the transformation of the civil war in purpose, scale, methods, and impacts. It is hallowed ground to over 4,000 men who lost their lives there in 1861 and 1862.
The contiguous rural landscape preserved and protected by Manassas National Battlefield Park allows visitors to better connect with the historic events of the battles, helps foster reverence for the suffering and sacrifice of its participants, and provides opportunities to experience the outdoors and for learning in an immersive environment.
As a largely unspoiled area surrounded by the intense pressure of development from Washington, D.C., the streams, landforms, fields, and forests that comprise the Manassas National Battlefield Park are becoming an important refuge for wildlife and people.
Prince William County’s Comprehensive Plan and subsequent zoning decisions in the areas adjacent to the Park should reflect uses that demonstrate an understanding and commitment to the preservation of that heritage and the open space benefits it provides.
Changing the County Comprehensive Plan to allow for more intensive development of the Pageland Lane corridor represents a significant threat to Manassas National Battlefield Park.
The Board of County Supervisors may understandably be attracted by the tax revenue promised by the current proposal for a 2,133-acre data center corridor along Pageland Lane. However, the board should also consider the resulting loss to the County’s and nation’s heritage as well as the significant benefits the Park provides both in terms of job creation and economic output, as well as open space enjoyment. These benefits would steadily degrade from this data center and other intense development adjacent to the Park.
The southern 570-acre application area is particularly sensitive and has been recognized by both state and federal agencies for its significance and direct association with the Battle of Second Manassas. These lands should be designated as an area to be preserved.
We also urge that you consider the previously initiated update to the Data Center Overlay District prior to advancing this amendment proposal any further. This would give the County firm data on the need and appropriateness of a land use change such as this. An updated Data Center Overlay District can identify other suitable and feasible locations for a Data Center that would enable the county to benefit from the development of such a center while retaining the current benefits of the Park.
In closing, we believe that the Comprehensive Plan should not be amended to accommodate more intensive development in the Pageland Lane area. An alternative location for the proposed data center should be identified consistent with an update to the Data Overlay District. Prince William County, with the support of the NPS, should undertake a Comprehensive Plan Amendment Study to address the many issues of County growth in all areas adjacent to the Park in a manner that recognizes and provides for its long-term protection and enhances its long-term benefits to the County.
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.
Michael B. Murray
Chair, Executive Council
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks