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Supervisors send data center proposal in transition area to future meeting for review

Dallas-based Compass Datacenters is proposing to build a 750,000-square-foot data center on the west side of the Goose Creek between Sycolin Road and the Dulles Greenway.
After an outpouring of opposition from dozens of Loudoun residents to a 750,000-square-foot data center proposed in the county’s transition policy area (TPA), the Board of Supervisors agreed Wednesday to take a closer look at the application and send it to a future meeting to review.

If approved, True North Data would sit on a property between Sycolin Road and the Dulles Greenway and would be the second data center within the TPA, next to Stonewall Business Park -- a site that includes 3.9 million square feet of data center and office uses.

The decision comes as the clock is ticking for Dallas-based Compass Datacenters and the county’s Department of Economic Development to close the deal on moving two to three of the country’s top technology companies to operate within the site by next summer if it is approved.

But the proposal has sparked strong opposition from environmental groups and county residents, who fear the facility would severely impact the area’s natural resources and the county’s public water supply.

They have also expressed frustration that the county is considering the application while its two-year Envision Loudoun Comprehensive Plan process is ongoing.

In addition to more than two dozen residents voicing opposition to the proposal Wednesday night, county Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said the board received 234 emails ahead of the meeting from Loudouners asking them to deny the application.

“In October 2016, at the kick off of the Envision Loudoun process we were told input from public meetings would be used to form the foundation of Envision Loudoun,” said Donald Goff, the head of the Transition Area Alliance. “We were told that Envision Loudoun would be an open and inclusive process that connects people to influence the future of our county, instead of that, I perceive that we’ve been given a take it or leave it attitude.”

Since September, the company has been touting the more than $22 million in additional tax revenue it would contribute to the county if approved.

Compass operates data center sites around the world and describes itself as an “industry disrupter” and more environmentally conscience than other data center companies.

Compared to similar data centers of its size, the facility would use just 130,000 gallons of water annually, as opposed to others that use about 18 million gallons of water per year.

Land-use attorney Colleen Gillis of Cooley LLP, who represents the company, told supervisors that if the site were not developed into a data center, they could develop 10 homes on the property, which would be more harmful to the water supply and Goose Creek than what they are proposing currently.

“We need it now because we’ve got customers who want to be here, and they’re ready to go. Contracts were delivered for later this summer,” she said. “ … $22.5 million annually in tax revenue, and as you all heard recently and in your budgetary presentation, as we, all of us in this room, stare down the barrel of our tax rate for next year and how we [are] fully going to fund the schools and all the different things that we want, it becomes critically important for us to look at the revenue sources that are available to us," Gillis said.

Compass’s Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Development Chris Curtis said the company is in the final stages of negotiations with top tech companies to move into the facility.

He said the proposed data center would only house two to three different clients, but declined to name the companies.

If Loudoun passed on the application, Curtis warned that those companies would pick up and go elsewhere.

The company’s warning to the county comes several months after social media giant Facebook chose to locate a 970,000-square-foot data center in Henrico County over Loudoun.

“You’ve already seen large customers going to Prince William County, Henrico County,” Curtis said. “ … There’s a push to do that because there's more land and more easier to do. This customer is one of those folks, and if they can't get us all here, they’re going to go elsewhere.”

Most supervisors agreed that although they liked the data center proposal and the company itself, putting the facility in the TPA next to the Goose Creek was not the right location.

Many also said they wanted to wait until Envision Loudoun was finalized before approving the application.

“Under some of the justifications that we’ve heard for why we should approve this, where would we stop approving this?” Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said. “Why don’t we just build [data centers] all the way to Clarke County? All the way to Charles Town, West Virginia? We could use all these same arguments to just keep on going. So where does it stop? I say it stops at the Dulles Greenway.”

Supervisor Kirsten Umstattd (D-Leesburg) argued the data center could help fund the more than $100 million budget shortfall the county is bracing for in its upcoming budget.

But the chairwoman called her argument “not rational.”

Others wondered if a data center did not go in that area -- what would?

“The reality is as we continue to grow we’re going to see that sort of pressure. So the question is going to be: What goes alongside the Greenway?” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said. “And what has gone alongside the rest of the Greenway has been residential development, and that’s the same thing as true when we talk about where data centers should be. When people say, ‘This isn't the right location, they belong somewhere else,’ what they mean is closer to densely populated areas in the county because that's where they are now.”

For years, county residents have resisted additional growth in the TPA -- an area that serves as a buffer between the county’s suburban east and rural west.

But so far a majority of the county's 26-member stakeholder committee helping compose the new Comprehensive Plan have indicated they would like to see more light industrial use and possibly residential in the TPA area in the new plan.

“For us to do this right now within months of actually completing the Envision Loudoun process -- yes -- the law allows it, but the spirit of the law … we shouldn't do this right now, we should listen to all the people who came out and spoke,” Randall said.

County supervisors will consider the True North Data application again their Dec. 5 business meeting.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @SydneyKashiwagi.


Someone using the moniker “Laugh” believes that if its rezoning is denied, True North will just go to another county That’s ridiculous, even if the developer says that action will be its back-up plan. Chris Curtis of True North told me after the meeting that Loudoun’s data center market has essentially zero vacancy. That means that every competent data center developer in the country is eyeing Loudoun. Moreover, they are smart enough to know that True North was denied only because it tried to put its project on property that was not zoned for it.

Good stewards of the property would have come with a plan to preserve the mafic barren habitat. Typical developer, pave over 1 of 10 habitats in the world. Because there is industrial use in the transition area is not a viable reason to double down and allow more.  You are correct homes are allowed and have been planned for, that is 1 home per 10 acres plus you can save the habitat, win, win. The Pec did not change their position on the 10 homes allowed and trying to use their opposition on certain projects that include homes on this data center clears up my curiosity as far as your screen name goes.

Encroachment into the transition area? Sorry, Mr. Erickson, but there are already such commercial uses as this, in the exact same area.  And please do not play the game that Chair Randall is playing, that this data center can just go somewhere else in Loudoun County.  That game just left the station.  This data center will go to another county if he Board of Supervisor says no.  Just like another data center just did. Sticking your head in the sand, and pretending, only makes you look silly, and somewhat exposed. And clearly, the PEC and the preservations cannot have it both ways.  That property is currently, right now, a place were homes can be built. For those of us who consistently point out how bad it is to have more houses in Loudoun County, we should be shocked by the change in position by the PEC and the preservationists.

I am glad the sales lady was so good the “citizen” decided a attack on the PEC is a good idea. Bingol seems easy to talk with, well educated and does not seem to be overly rich so it must be all the other rick snobs you speak of. Maybe I can get a grant if I ever meet one of them. Encroachments into a transition area is like getting a little pregnant one way or the other you are still screwed. If this data center is so well thought out they must have a alternate site they would like to use. Contrary to what Hemstreet, Randall and Letnournea tell you if we don’t build we won’t need to increase taxes to pay for the build out. 22 million might pay for the FDK teachers per year, more waste!

Actually, Citizensfor…, we have here a perverse switch of positions.  The PEC and the preservationists have now taken the position that they want more and more houses in the transition area.  That is the direct result of their demands, as the area is currently zoned for houses. And as we have all seen over time, more and more houses brings more cars on our roads, more children in our schools leading to overcrowding, pollution, and a raising crime rate.  So, shaking my head in Loudoun County, there is another pro-housing group in the county:  The PEC and preservationists.

The citizens of Loudoun County need to know what is going on here.  The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), headquartered in Warrenton, Va., is against EVERYTHING that has to do with building ANYTHING. They are mostly funded by a bunch of rich snobs, some of whom have gotten rich through developing THEIR land or through construction companies that THEY previously owned. And now, they want to keep their playground as pristine as possible. This is fine on the surface and perhaps a noble goal, but much of their opposition defies logic. Such as, their opposition to this data center as well as their continual opposition to increasing housing density along major arteries such as the Dulles Greenway. Their methods involve having hundreds of their members send emails, and go to meetings to oppose everything.  And some of the BOS members don’t have the guts (such as Higgins) to make logical decisions that oppose them (or anyone for that matter as it’s always easy to say “no”). This data center proposal is well thought-out, is “green,” and is “free money” ($22M per year!) for the County.  Please do the right thing and immediately vote to approve this!

Buh, bye.

Actually, there are many taxes a business pays, and it is not just real property taxes.  But the position of cgh3 also overlooks a key point. A “No” vote now means the data center leaves Loudoun County, immediately looking in other counties.  So, yes, the County, year after year after year will lose out on $22,000,000.00 each year.  And, a no vote will send a clear message to other data centers interested in coming to Loudoun County.  We have already lost one, as this article points out, and to lose a second tells the world, that Loudoun County is closed to such businesses.  That compounds the loss many times over.

If you don’t save the mafic barren habitat this data center will not happen at this site. You have until the 5th to figure out how to save it, get busy!

Supervisor Umstattd sent many citizens a detailed and sincere explanation of why she likes this rezoning: Data centers produce net revenue for the County, houses cost the County money, and thus $22 million in taxes from this project can go to the schools. (Chair Randall correctly noted that there is no “direct pipeline” from this project to the public school.)

Ms. Umstattd is a serious and diligent Supervisor, but in this instance her logic overlooked a major point: Real estate taxes are based on their value as of January 1 of each year. Since this data center won’t open until much later in 2018, it won’t start paying taxes until 2019. The County’s revenue from the data center’s 2018 taxes? Zero.

Thus, voting on this rezoning before Envision Loudoun has resulted in a new Comprehensive Plan will not harm the County’s finances by a single penny.

Stall for awhile, wait until the heat dies down…and then approve it. BoS playbook, right after the chapter entitled “Townhouses are your friends.”

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