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Loudoun supervisors delay decision on Short Hill ‘data center’

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday night to delay consideration of a commission permit for the expansion of a controversial AT&T telephone transmission facility on Short Hill Mountain to its June 23 business meeting.

“I'm very concerned that we're relying 100 percent on essentially self representations that we can't verify and I don't know that we really know what's going in that facility whether it's a data center use which would be a special exception or ... something different,” Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said.

Earlier this year, AT&T won the approval of the county's Planning Commission to build a massive, 3.5-acre facility – essentially a data center – at the top of Short Hill on the ridge between Hillsboro and Lovettsville.

The decision, however, has been met with sharp criticism from community members and local environmental groups who argue that the county is mischaracterizing what the center will be used for. Opponents say county officials are rushing the facility through without proper consideration, especially for the scenic viewshed.

"If it looks like a data center, if it's comprised of all the elements of a data center, if it uses electricity like a data center, it's a data center,” Lindsay Mohler, a Lovettsville resident and local attorney, told the board ahead of the vote. “The county has improperly classified this sites' purpose as a utility substation, however, AT&T does not provide public or private utility services to Loudoun county residents."

Buona echoed community concerns and agreed that he did not want the center “hiding behind the guise of a transmission station under a commission program, if it really is something else.”

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), whose district will be directly impacted by the AT&T facility, admitted that he could not support the center “in its current form” and urged “substantial changes” were needed, including clarification of the facility's use.

“The documents say that the current use [of the facility] is a manned communication facility it goes from being a communication facility to be a telecommunication facility in the original application to being a transmission utility substation in the planning commission documents and before tonight, a telephone transmission utility substation,” Higgins said. “I can tell you for sure it is not a transmission utility substation.”

The Catoctin supervisor also questioned how the facility could be deemed a “public utility substation” if the facility had no public use.

“I'm not convinced or comfortable with these findings, I don't know of any public use that we're gonna benefit from,” Higgins warned.

County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (R-At Large) was absent from the meeting due to an overseas economic development trip.


Great…finally western Loudoun will have a datacenter.  No broadband Internet access…can’t have everything….

Someday this mystical “private-public partnership” that BOS talks about will give us broadband Internet access in western Loudoun and we can stop driving out kids to the library for Internet homework.

Agree we have to remain vigilant.  The BoS will always first delay a tough vote..to see if the public interest remains high…then those most endangered by the wrong decision will stand defiantly and insist this must not pass…then the slightly larger majority of the BoS will pass the thing and everybody meets after the session to have a beer and congratulate themselves. 

We’re at the delay phase…so stay tuned and stay engaged.

Might as well put a ferris wheel up there too….if the board approves something like this, they wont be around long.

DD is right—this is far from over and, ominously, likely to keep happening as more businesses play fast and loose with planning rules to take advantage of the cheaper land out west.  One group wants to build an amusement park in P’ville and tries to snow the locals, now we have an industrial park being mischaracterized as a utility substation (to make it sound like there will be minimal employee traffic) and all the while our intrepid planners say “looks good to us.”  I wonder if AT&T has contributed to any Supervisor campaigns…if not, if they’re too big to do so, that might explain a lot.

It ain’t over yet.  Vote delayed is not a “no” vote.  Time and again we’ve seen the BoS supervisor whose constituency is directly effected by some development stand up and vociferously defy the motion only to see the majority vote for it and push it through.  The votes gets counted before the votes are taken and they make sure it gets through AND they all look good.

wait a minute. . . june 23 - hope they won’t ram thru while we enjoy vacation lines in the sand

Good…I just cancelled my AT&T phone service!! I will not support a company like AT&T who thinks they can march in here and take over….like Toll Brothers, Pulte, Ryan etc. Line in the sand is a good mantra…they can plop down a data center anywhere, it does not have to be on a ridge top.

Make it a condition for approval that ATT begin offering broadband Internet connectivity to unserved areas in western Loudoun.  Verizon and Comcast never will….

Hats off to the supervisors—they really held the planning staff’s collective feet to the fire and exposed the fact that the planners took the AT&T applicant’s representations at face value without truly researching their validity.

The longstanding “line in the sand” of no big industry or developments west of Rt 15 must stand.  Don’t let this be the first of an influx of big ugly buildings in western Loudoun.  Supervisors, please don’t let this happen.

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