Data center proposal ‘difficult situation’ for supervisors
Standards within the proposed zoning ordinance amendment – discussed during a Board of Supervisors public hearing Wednesday – included a minimum building height, building facades, noise considerations and screening of parking. The amendment would make data centers “by-right” in districts zoned for office and industrial parks if they meet those standards.
Supervisors eventually sent the item to the board's Transportation and Land Use Committee after hearing from more than a dozen interested citizens – both residents who live near Loudoun data centers and are in favor of the new standards and representatives from the data center industry who expressed distaste with the regulations.
Jonathan Sharpe, the vice president of marketing with Latisys data centers, said the proposals would be an impediment for his company to grow in Loudoun County.
“Data center providers like us are being aggressively courted by rural Virginia and North Carolina, jurisdictions around the country,” Sharpe said. “ … This type of regulation may give us pause beyond the economic climate as we think about where to expand to next.”
“Looking at the [proposed changes], it's hard to reconcile that with being business friendly,” said Jeff Snow with Ardent developers, which has worked closely with data centers.
Brian Fauls, the government affairs manager for the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, said, “The data center industry has enjoyed a strong, collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship with Loudoun County. They have helped enable Loudoun County to thrive and we should be cautious of unintended consequences that could compel these companies to look elsewhere.”
But Walt Purnell, the president of the Regency of Ashburn homeowners association, which is near many of the county's data centers, supported the changes. Purnell said he's alarmed with “egregious” development applications near his residential community.
“We think you need to approve these changes and apply them to applications in process,” he said.
“The noise levels are a significant issue for our tenants,” said Maggie Parker with Comstock developers, which operates the Loudoun Station mixed-use community near some of the data centers.
A corridor in Ashburn is often referenced as “data center ally” because of the industry's robust local presence. Nearly 8 million square feet of data center space is currently housed or in development in Loudoun.
Since 2000, data centers have been allowed to operate within land zoned for more traditional office space. Given data centers' operations can have a substantial impact on surrounding areas, the board of supervisors are looking to define 'data center,' add the use to certain zoning districts and develop performance standards to regulate the use,” according to a Loudoun County staff report.
But as several supervisors noted, the proposed amendment could have unintended consequences and serve the opposite intent of making the county business-friendly.
“This is a difficult situation,” said Chairman Scott York (R-At Large), who pointed out the item initially came forward to help the data center industry with permitting processes. “… I appreciate over time the concerns of impact of one use to another. And hopefully we will be able to come to a situation that is a win-win for everyone involved.”