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?"