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Loudoun County supervisors narrowly approve True North data center

Loudoun supervisors in a controversial vote Thursday rezoned 106 acres in the county’s Transition Policy Area to make room for True North, a 760,000-square-foot data center, going against staff recommendations and, according to those opposed to the facility, setting a dangerous precedent.

Those who voted to approve the Dallas-based Compass Datacenters application said data centers already exist in the area – “Data Center Alley” is about five miles away – and the facility will bring in $22 million in annual revenue that can go toward education and needed infrastructure in the county.

The 5-to-4 vote to approve the rezoning pit Loudoun’s rural western districts against its more urban eastern areas. Supervisors Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), Koran Saines (D-Sterling), Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) voted in favor of approving the rezoning applications.

“I see this as a vote against western Loudoun County …,” said Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).

At times, supervisors’ discussions of the application became emotional.

“This is not about data centers. Data centers are great partners in Loudoun County,” said Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin). “This is about building and planning for something where it doesn’t belong.”

“I don’t know what to say. I can’t believe this is going to happen,” he continued. “ … This is the will of the five to oppose this onto the four who have to live in this area …”

The land, owned by Wildwood Parks LLC, is on the west side of Goose Creek, off Sycolin Road and the Dulles Greenway. Supervisors said they received “hundreds and hundreds” of emails from constituents who asked that they vote against the data center for fear of water pollution and infringing upon the rural west. A proffer agreed to by True North says the data center cannot draw water from any nearby natural resource.

Letourneau argued that the data center would be located between Ashburn and Leesburg, not in western Loudoun. Prior to the vote, the zoning allowed for one home per 10 acres.

“The reality is this site will get clear cut and this site will get developed and it’s up to the board to decide what that’s going to be,” said Letourneau, adding he’d rather have a facility on land that’s got a “known quantity that’s much less risky” than a by-right use.

Supervisors voting in favor said the data center proposal was one of the best they had seen concerning environmental issues. True North will reportedly use 130,000 gallons of water annually as opposed to other data centers that use about 18 million gallons of water per year. Tree conservation, building height restrictions and transportation projects are part of the company’s proffers.

True North representatives say the project will also dedicate more than five acres that will serve as a park and make a one-time $81,500 contribution to the county to fund a scholarship for students interested in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Dozens of residents and representatives from nonprofit environmental agencies took to the microphone on Tuesday to oppose the data center.

“It’s not appropriate for the site. I’m also a business owner and mad that I’m opposing something that’s done great things for Loudoun County. But this is just not the right site,” said Ted Lewis of Leesburg. “It’s just reckless to put a data center like this upstream from a water development source.”

Loudoun County has more than 10 million square feet of data centers running at any given time, mostly around the Ashburn area, and at least 43 parcels of land have been identified for future data center use.

Umstattd said she voted for the data center because of the opportunity to expand the park and the revenue it will bring to the county that could go toward education.

“If this was developed as residential, you still will have no access to the creek land,” she said. “If you value an experience with nature, as I do, you need to open it up to the members of the community, rather than leave it in private hands.

“Really?” Higgins later shot back. “Someone is going to go out for a picnic near a data center?”


Comments


If you can’t beat them join them. Amazon is taking over Loudoun County since they have many many data centers in the area and under construction. I’m sure the headquarters will be built in the area and this transaction makes it look even more appealing. The mega power poles and lines going up along Route 50 and 606 should be a clue. At least three new data centers just went up in the Eastgate portion of South Riding so the writing is on the wall.


“this is Amazon’s datacenter…”

Yep.


Sup Higgins is in bed with the Waterford Foundation and PEC.  With over $6,000,000 in assets, he “gave” the Waterford Foundation $150,000 of our money (TOT funds) to “repair their finances”.  In exchange, I guess he anticipates votes, campaign funds, and political homage.  Higgins = PEC.  Full disclosure would be nice, right?


Ps: this is Amazon’s datacenter and nova getting their HQ built in VA because of this.


Modern data centers are waterless (just built the largest data center in nova) and we use nonwater. Their design is already obsolete. Supervisors made a terrible decision today.


Kudos to Supervisor Letourneau and the other five BOS members who have an ounce of common sense.  Everyone knows that there is nothing “transitional” about the track of land east of Evergreen Mills Road.  There has been nothing “transitional” about it for many years now.  This area is, and has been, industrial, commercial, and suburban.  The TPA shouldn’t be east of Evergreen Mills Road!  This data center will put far less pollutants into Goose Creek than 10 homes, likely with septic fields, along with regular fertilizers and chemicals on the lawns. (Nice big homes on big lots equal nice green lush lawns, heavily fertilized).  I’m not sure why Supervisor Higgins is so aligned with the Piedmont Environmental Council , but he sure doesn’t act responsibility for the County as a whole or his constituency.


Have any of you looked at the map of this section of the “transition area”?  The other side of the Greenway is Loudoun Waters new facility and next to that is a new power plant.  Luck stone is a little farther north.  Not a 1/4 mile from this site are a bunch of town houses.  I am not positive but it looks like the site might be in the flight path of Leesburg airport.  It is also better than an industrial park with too many used car places, kids party place, or more useless stuff that goes out of business every couple of years.  I applaud the supervisors for making the developer make changes to the application after the first attempt.  It fits the area people.


How do we get to a spot where some number (likely no larger than the number who support our loser ripoff of a president) think it’s a great thing to champion data centers.  Are they just push-button, knee-jerk info-warriors? 
#sad


Higgins could easily vote “no” on this one because he knew it was going to be approved anyway.  They play games for appearance all of the time.  He is also the western king of developer influence and pork.  Watch out.


SkoaldudeVA:  Land can be zoned/rezoned for anything and whomever comes to the table with a barrel of money can get the land zoned any way they want. Nothing is set in stone until a structure exists on the land.

So it’s better to have data centers on the land than strip malls (added in pawn shops for shock therapy). You are dreaming if you think that land will remain filled with Trees and Grass as time goes on and Loudoun grows.

Every plot of land in Eastern Loudoun will eventually be paved over with something if it’s not a protected park. So putting a data center there now is the best option. Homes, Retail, etc are all burdens on the taxpayer.


Am curious if most/all critics truly understand where the TPA is, if they know/understand how much of it is already developed, and thus, what is at stake in the greater conversation of allowing greater development to broach the Suburban/Transition boundary line.

https: / / www . loudoun . gov / Document Center / View / 993   —- remove all those spaces and paste into a browser. Look at the very small area that the TPA actually occupies. Zoom in and view the True North site.  Understand it’s a wholly separate tract bound by the Goose Creek, the toll road, and Sycolin Road, which the current Transportation Plan has earmarked as a 4-lane facility by 2030. It has a massive electric transmission line running through the northern tip.

A lot of folks want to make this the hill they live or die on. I see much greater battles, with greater impacts.

And a point about this ‘water intake source’ argument - apparently it’s OK for eastern Loudoun to be developed, which is “up river” of the Potomac (for which the Goose, Broad Run, Sugarland Run, etc. all drain to) which is the drinking water source for everyone ‘lower than’ those in the TPA or RPA, and purportedly poison and ruin other peoples water ‘downstream’. How indefatigably elitist of you. I don’t know how you keep a straight face when you voice such a concern, and say (data centers) should go somewhere else (ie, to harm someone else).


Ignorance and stupidity! The biggest disappointment is Umstattd…the rest are patently dumb…glad they don’t have any future political aspirations…there won’t be any for those 5 who voted for this..why are you so clueless? Does developer bucks in your pockets mean that much to you???


To the 5 supervisors who voted for this data center, shame on you. Brin Luther, Leesburg, VA


A big, beautiful data center. Can’t wait to see their design. Also can’t wait to see my tax bill drop!


Umstadtt was always known now we know the price.


Huge mistake….this board is pathetic, they paved paradise and put up a data center…wait until the huge power lines come with it…


This east-west rift can be easily healed: Let’s just put a halt to sprawl, everywhere. “Growth” can be harmful. Unchecked, it can be fatal.


Much gratitude to Higgins, Buffington, Randall and Buona. They knew what was at stake and fought for it. Umstattd must have been in la-la land, with a pipe-dream of data center dollars flowing directly to schoolchildren. Saines followed her lead like a puppy. Meyer, on this and other topics, hogged the microphone; he reeks of ambition for higher office. Yet it was Letourneau who bothers me the most. He is cocksure of himself and his opinions, yet he is totally, sadly wrong. He believes that we need more, more, more growth. WRONG! Out of control growth brings crowded schools and aggravates the exact problem Umstattd thought data center dollars would fix. Democrats need a strong candidate to oppose him, and with eastern Loudoun becoming politically blue, he’s ripe for a defeat. Volpe? The last time I saw her off the dais was at the last meeting - she was outside, smoking cigarettes with the True North developer.


Refresh your memories - Evermont Trace, 2014 - Higgins voted for a rezoning to permit 90 lots near Dulles and within the ‘do not build residential’ noise contours. Coined “the worst decision (that board) made”. Letourneau voted for it too.

These folks make decisions all the time that confound all sets of reason. Nefarious purposes, perhaps. But it is their purview as the elected representatives. The writing is on the wall now, the TPA boundary will be pushed west; the conversation will be, why was it where it was, and was that the best line? It held off development creep for a good while; that’s a win for the PEC minded.
Consider this - the real, eventual, retroactive biggest loser in this whole TPA conversation, and probably eventual Envision Loudoun Policy Area mapping - Greenvest. Google “Willowsford” and “ULI” for enlightening brief.

Excerpts: 
“The Willowsford site was originally assembled and owned by Greenvest LC, a northern Virginia–based land developer. Greenvest had planned to develop 15,000 residential units plus a golf course on the site. In 2007, county officials denied up-zoning approvals for the project due to a reluctance to change the county’s master plan, which established the area as a “transition zone” from suburban to rural character, reducing the upper limits for development on the site. Development in the transition zone is limited to one unit for every one to three acres (TR1 and TR3 zoning). In addition, the housing recession was well underway at the time, making the proposed project no longer viable as planned.

In December 2009, following a 30-day due diligence period, RPG purchased the property from iStar Financial for $89 million following iStar’s purchase of the site in a friendly foreclosure for $69 million. Greenvest had borrowed $130 million from iStar to buy the property.

All four parcels are approved for single-family residential development. Zoning is “by right,” and no approvals or further rezoning is needed. No concept plan was needed, which allows Willowsford the flexibility to adapt its plan and unit types as the market changes.”

So, a huge portion of the TPA (south of Evergreen Mill) is actually planned/built out by Willowsford. Moving the line west, absorbing developed land, does little to change the future, which is the great concern (fear).


FredSanford - what are you talking about with “strip malls of pawn shops”? The article clearly states this was zoned for one house per 10 acres. Unfortunately by setting a precedent to rezone in the TPA, this now opens up future re-zoning that may result, not in a data center, but in the strip malls that you say you loathe. I don’t understand why those who support this look at this as a one-off project, rather than a move setting a dangerous precedent. Fred, I would like to see your position when the TPA is all rezoned and covered in Harris Teeters, nail salons, Pizza places, Indian restaurants and Virginia Tire & Auto shops.

Mr. Smartgrowth, actually if you look at a map the TPA is exactly what it was meant to be (i.e. transitional from urban/suburban to rural), and the need for it to be maintained is necessary to protect encroachment into western Loudoun. If the TPA is continually rezoned and developed, then developers will keep going west, urging that there is a “great need” for more housing density, strip malls, industrial centers, etc. Supervisors will see dollar signs (for the children, of course), and continue to approve. In reality, there is just a great need to line developers pockets. Where does this stop? Clark County, West Virginia?

Finally, the argument that western Loudoun deserves this because Ashburn and Sterling are already full of data centers and strip malls is an unproductive, petty and vindictive view.


Loudoun BOS caves once again to developers. Vote the bums out.


Again, environmentalists get stabbed in the back by the Democrats that are supposed to support them.

Until Green Party candidates start running in Loudoun, developers will win and environmentalists will lose and Democrat politicians are more than happy to help them.


Who is Wildwood Parks, LLC? When I google it I get nothing.


What’s next for the rest of the properties along Sycolin Road? It’s such a lovely drive along there through the farms and fields. Or it was. Why is it a choice between data centers and houses? Are there no other options? Why does everything have to be about getting top dollar? How about caring about how our county looks and feels?

Ashburn along Waxpool already looks ugly and industrial. Do we have to do that to the rest of Loudoun in the name of the almighty dollar?


How funny, those voting in favor did so thinking it was best environmental….Yeah, right. Watch how the plans change the closer to building out this monster….


If America ever was or is a democracy which is debatable.  Now is the time for Catoctin County! Having a county divided by an east/west interest which is not compatible is not democratic is is tyranny!


Of course they did.  I imagine the conference went something like this, “look, 4 of us need some protection on this one so let’s go 5-4 and we’ll take the heat on the next one for you guys.”  Developers win, county voters lose and we improve our chances for re-election.


Kudos to Supervisor Letourneau and the other 5 BOS members who have an ounce of common sense.  Everyone knows that there is nothing “transitional” about the track of land east of Evergreen Mills Road.  There has been nothing transitional about this area for many years now.  This data center will put far less pollutants into Goose Creek than 10 homes would, considering they likely would have septic fields, along with regular fertilizers and chemicals in order to have those nice lush lawns that big expensive homes usually display.  I’m not sure if Higgins is bought and paid for by the Piedmont Environmental Council or what, but he sure acts like it.


I love this quote by Higgins: “...This is the will of the five to oppose this onto the four who have to live in this area …”.

Oh, what a nice concept to suddenly introduce.  And how many of the western supervisors opposed the massive number of data centers being built in the east?  If we have to deal with this blight then so do you.  For far too long the BOS has been obsessed with protecting the western part of the county while dumping on the east every chance they get.  Nice to see things swing the other way for once.


I’d rather have data centers than strip malls of pawn shops. If somebody wants to picnic, there are plenty of county parks they can visit.

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