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Loudoun Planning Commission backs AT&T’s data center plans for Short Hill Mountain

Short Hill Mountain emerges from the Piedmont countryside as a low-lying ridge northwest of Purcellville that rises above the valley until it drops precipitously into the Potomac. From a point overlooking what is known as the “viewshed,” a communications icon seeks to build a facility that would be visible from the Appalachian Trail and a part of the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship that is planned for a state park.

AT&T has won the approval of county planners to build a data center on 3.5 acres at the top of Short Hill on the ridge between Hillsboro and Lovettsville. But now, residents down the mountain from the viewshed seek to block what they view as an unsightly project that changes the nature of the landscape.

“This facility stands in direct contrast to the consciousness of the neighbors of the site,” writes Daniel Fidick of Lovettsville, a data center architect who has organized citizens’ opposition to the project.

“Better wireless communications is not a factor in the choice to live in this region,” Fidick wrote in an online petition signed by more than 250 people. “This part of the county stands out as an area that stands for the acts of 'faith-keeping and neighborliness.'”

The petition asks the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to reject AT&T’s plans and override approvals by county staff and the planning commission.

The petition reads as follows:

“We see the countryside as a place to uphold and to care for. We see it for more than the one single form of capital that is financial wealth. We pride ourselves in holding a more dynamic view of capital in this region. This view holds all forms including social, environmental, cultural, spiritual and experiential capital as something to unite and promote and approve. This perspective is why people come to visit. When sojourners from other parts of the county and states come, they visit farmlands and wineries, they enjoy the fresh air and views that come from the culture that is Western Loudoun. This facility stands in direct opposition to this. It will disfigure a part of the landscape we hold dear.”

Loudoun County government officials have not yet set a date as to when the county's Board of Supervisors will discuss or vote on the project.

AT&T proposes to locate the data center on an overlook east of Neersville and east of Harpers Ferry Road, approximately 2.5 miles north of the intersection with Charles Town Pike (Route 9) and approximately 4,000 feet south of the intersection with Sagle Road.

Loudoun County is one of the largest hubs for data centers in the world with more than 60 facilities, most clustered in Ashburn’s Data Center Alley.

Residents of Loudoun's Catoctin District say they’ve been blindsided by AT&T and county planners. They contend they were unaware of the project until a planning commission meeting last week.

At the meeting, Commissioner Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) objected to the facility saying AT&T had not given enough public notice.

“Why was there no contact of people who lived on the eastern side of Short Hill?” Scheel asked. “This facility, if built, would be visible from the entire Loudoun Valley, and yet there was no attempt.”

Lindsay Mohler, a Lovettsville resident, said she heard about the application the morning before the commission’s April 25 meeting.

Gem Bingol, representing the Piedmont Environmental Coalition, also objected. “Is there not a better place for a regional facility than the top of one of our mountains?”

But the planning commission approved the siting, despite objections from residents and commissioners that notice in the Catoctin District was insufficient.

“I understand that people want a beautiful viewshed,” said Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian). “The thing is, the only way you can have a perfect, pristine viewshed is to purchase all of the viewshed. You don’t own the viewshed. You can enjoy it, but you don’t own it. You’ll have to buy it all in order to keep it the way you want it.”

Freelance writer and occasional Times-Mirror columnist John Flannery contributed to this story. Flannery, who lives in Lovettsville, is an elected director of the Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Comments


I spoke to a person living in Loudoun with years of telecom development experience today.(name not disclosed) He said there are some Important Points to consider and this project has some major deficits…..

1. AT&T CLOSED this facility in 2015 so this is NOT an upgrade.

2. PER the planning commission documents PARSONS ENVIRONMENTAL & INFRAS is now the owner of record so again this is not an “upgrade of an existing facility nor is it an AT&T facility any longer.

ALSO - where are they going to get the water to cool this data center - not from the Potomac - that’s Maryland’s water. Where are they going to get the electricity to power it - not from the power lines nearby - those are for long haul.  THEY WILL NEED TO GET POWER FROM PURCELLVILLE’S substation and erect big towers.  The greater the power requirements - the higher the “poles.”

This WAS not planed at all, it’s not going up and I don’t understand why PARSONS ENVIRONMENTAL is even attempting this.  There are better places for a data center.

Check the documents at the planning commission’s website. This link might work…..https://www.loudoun.gov/index.aspx?NID=3362. 

Also we don’t necessarily benefit broadband wise from a data center.  I’m sure if we were going to get broadband out here in Western Loudoun from this monstrosity then that would have been stated by Parsons.

I think they were counting on a compliant Planning commission and public (LIKE THE PATH FOLKS DID).  They win on the planning commission but not the public.


AMAZING WHAT MONEY CAN DO IN THE TIMES OF NEED. YOU KNOW MOPAR WHAT YOU SAID WAS THE TRUTH , FOR I HAVE SEEN IT , BREATHED IT , WALKED IT YOU NAME IT. JUST WAIT IN A FEW YEARS WHEN A PERSON SAYS WHAT FLOOR WOULD YOU LIKE ,IM TALKING SKYSCRAPERS FOR THERE WILL BE NO WAY TO BUILD OUT , SO THEY WILL HAVE TO GO UP .


If the “data center” is actually for the aid in national security I am all for it.  Now all the complaining about how it will ruin the pastoral views and the charm of the community,  where were you the last 35 years when Eastern loudoun was destroyed.  But wait now its in your back yard and its important.  Well start buying up all the land now if you don’t want the next zoning approval to be a strip mall.


This is Kathy Blackburns idea of progress, yikes!


Terrible decision.  Might as well put a ferris wheel up there too so everyone can enjoy and view Volpe’s sprawl…


how come they haven’t had their septic system cleaned in YEARS when the rest of us have to. Where does the septic go? just one of many questions.


In my earlier comment, the link I referenced was stripped. Google the phrase: “unfortunate thinking in Loudoun”.

The reference is: Andrew Martel, The Winchester Star, Thursday, March 4, 2004.


As a window into republican thinking, Sup. Volpe said: “Sprawl is the American dream.” So if you want that view, then you better buy it.


This is what happens when your Government is in the pocket of the developers.  The only way you get this stopped is by calling in the FBI to investigate who got paid.


This is in my back yard. Literally on top of the hill behind my house.
If I wanted to have a facility like this in my back yard, I would have moved to Ashburn.
I realize this is Not just a datacenter and is more than meets the eye, but seriously, build it underground.
DON’T ruin the countryside. We moved out here for peace and quiet. My fear is that there will be more to follow as usual.


Dick Black and Geary Higgins are too busy trying to give the Waterford Foundation hundreds of thousands of dollars so they can “repair their finances”.  The $6,000,000 in assets and fat salaries are not enough.  This group, to which Geary is a member, offers in return a large pool of potential voters.  Politics as usual.  Pork for friends. Short Hill is of little interest to them obviously.


“this data center has nothing to do with bringing broadband to Loudoun, it is a regional center that could just as well serve in the industrial zoned area of the county, like VISA, Raging Wire, Amazon, and the rest.”

The BOS needs to make the connection.  Loudoun lives with old contracts that allow ISPs to cherry pick only the most profitable areas to serve.  When the BOS or residents ask for an expanded service area, the ISPs tell them “no” and there is no recourse.  It’s time that the BOS responds to the telcom providers with conditions before automatically approving requests like this.  Tell ATT that they will have approval is then agree to provide broadband service to some or all of western Loudoun.  Play hardball.


this data center has nothing to do with bringing broadband to Loudoun, it is a regional center that could just as well serve in the industrial zoned area of the county, like VISA, Raging Wire, Amazon, and the rest.


During the cold war, AT&T operated as a quasi-governmental agency and provided much of the communications infrastructure for Armageddon.  They still do.  There is a secure facility located out there already that (among other things, I’m sure) provides communication support for the Mountain That Shall Not Be Named.  This isn’t just any datacenter and it probably *has* to go there.


The proposed AT&T facility is an insult to the people who have donated or are considering donating their development rights to Land Trusts. Typically the land owner gives up their right to develop residential lots at the legal density (AR-1 is 1 unit per 5 acres) in exchange for deed restrictions that allow only 50 to 100 acre lots (along with other environmentally friendly constraints). There is a 1,000 acre planned state park directly across from the site that has been donated by the Leggett family and another 13,000 acres of land that has been placed in conservation easements in and around the Blue Ridge and Short Hills (According to the Loudoun County website (https://www.loudoun.gov/index.aspx?nid=1443)  the County has more than 65,000 acres of privately conserved land, representing almost 20% of Loudoun. The web site further states that “rural land conservation is critical to preserving a sufficient supply of the land and water that is needed for farming. Protecting the integrity of the rural landscape also preserves essential historic resources, habitat for wildlife, and safeguards scenic views and recreation opportunities.” and yet the planning staff stated: The staff stated: “ . . .  Plan policies support the expansion of existing non-agriculturally related commercial uses, such as the proposed communications facility, in the Rural Policy Area if the use is determined to be compatible in scale and intensity with the surrounding area . . . .”  Question: What scale are you using?
There are no such facilities of this magnitude in this pastoral area. The property is located in the area of farms and wineries and residences on large lots. The area is known for its natural beauty, for the Appalachian Trail, rafting and canoe trips, 6 vineyards and farm to table restaurants. Please stick to the plan, it’s a good one.


Take a look at the newest google earth imagery. The old troposcatter antennas have been removed and construction has already begun. They are most likely just getting approval to convert the old bunker into a gov’t data center.


Lots of folks who live in sight of this mountain top know that the facility up there’s more than just an AT&T switching center. It has an underground bunker, a waste management system able to serve a couple hundred people, and a big parking lot. The proposal calls for 60 staffers working 24/7. Come on ... the reason it’s sailing through is because it’s more than just AT&T.


Given the history of AT&T’s presence on Short Hill Mountain, I’m willing to bet that this particular data center has little in common with the data centers elsewhere in the county.  Resistance is futile.


Just one more piece of proof that the BOS and the Planning Commission in this county are the poorest example of “leaders” one can ever imagine. How stupid! There are data centers scattered already along the Greenway. There is no reason this one needs to be on top of a ridge. Why can’t the most affluent county in the country attract intelligent, smart people to government? Year in and year out this county votes for, or appoints the dumbest people on the planet. Do you not see the disconnect? Example, Dick Black, how can this mindless person get elected over and over? And DelGaudio in Sterling re-elected. This county deserves better and should demand better. This really takes the cake.


I’d much rather have broadband Internet access than a “view”.  How western Loudoun is without broadband in the 21st century is beyond understanding.  Most third world countries have better.

Besides, it’s only a matter of time before the development destruction currently happening in eastern Loudoun makes it west and the “views” are all of plastic siding on condos.


As a condition for approval, BOS should mandate that ATT provide broadband Internet access for western Loudoun.  Crazy that a datacenter be located in an area without broadband Internet access.  For years BOS has waited for “public - private cooperation” to solve the lack of broadband - with zero results.


If Western Loudoun can’t stop a big ugly data center, then we’ve lost the duality of character that makes Loudoun wonderful.  The east is suburban and the west is rural.  Let’s keep it that way.

Terrible idea.  Absolutely terrible.


They can put the datacenter and the cables and powerlines underground!  Let’s insist they do this.  Geary Higgins you have an opportunity to do something useful…

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