A proposal to build a 750,000-square-foot data center and utility substation on the west bank of Goose Creek drew public outcry at a public hearing Wednesday.
The applicant, H&H Capital Acquisitions of Dallas, TX, has offered to construct turn lanes and sidewalks along Sycolin Road, refrain from using the water on the site for cooling, agree to setbacks from the creek and wetland mitigation, limit the height of the buildings, and save an easement for a future Goose Creek Trail. They have also newly committed to planting at least 2 acres of pollinator plants. The 106-acre property lies between Goose Creek, the Dulles Greenway, and Sycolin Road.
Cooley LLP partner Colleen Gillis, who represents the applicant, described the data center developer, Compass Data Centers, as “an industry disruptor” and said the company could develop the site in an environmentally responsible manner. The facility will not use water except for humidification. She said the data center complex would be less harmful to Goose Creek than the low-density housing that could be built there today under current zoning.
“We can develop the property today for 10 homes,” Gillis said. “Those ten homes would do more to degrade the water supply and do more in terms of sheet flow and stormwater runoff to harm Goose Creek than what it is we’re proposing.
The county’s Department of Economic Development estimates once it hits full buildout, the project would generate $22-$24 million in local tax revenue annually.
Since its introduction at the Planning Commission, the project has drawn opposition from neighbors and conservation groups and has been recommended for denial by the county staff. Nonetheless, the Planning Commission recommended approval in a 6-3 vote, with commissioners Eugene Scheel (Catoctin), Ad Barnes (Leesburg), and Dan Lloyd (Sterling) opposed.
It has drawn opposition for bringing an industrial use into a relatively undeveloped and residential area, for bucking county policy that discourages industrial-scale projects in the Transition Policy Area that divides the county’s rural west and suburban east.
“Do you really want to be the Board of Supervisors that violated the county’s own policies by allowing a data center in the transition policy area?” asked Dennis Kruse, president of Bike Loudoun.
The project would also encroach on a rare ecological community called a Northern Piedmont Mafic Barren, one of only 10 such locations in the world, according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“I’m a geotechnical engineer, and I don’t even know what it is,” said Ted Lewis of Leesburg. “But if there’s ten of them in the world, I can’t even imagine that we would destroy it.”
Those who supported the application pointed to the revenues it could generate.
“My suggestion would be that any board member who would vote against this project, at the same time they vote against it, tell us where you would replace those $22 million dollars,” said Jeff Kayden, of Lovettsville.
“When I hear people say ‘this isn’t the right location, it belongs somewhere else,’ what they mean is, ‘closer to densely populated areas in the county,’ because that‘s where it is now,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
The project comes as the Envision Loudoun stakeholders committee is revising the county’s comprehensive plan, including making changes to the transition policy area.
The application’s opponents see in it a continuation of a trend from the Envision Loudoun process. During public input sessions across the county, hundreds of Loudouners turned out, almost unanimously asking that the ransition area be protected from development.
“We held public hearings for Envision Loudoun, and I thought the number one thing would be something about traffic and homes, and it wasn’t,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “The number one thing that people said in public hearings was we want more green space, pedestrian trails, and bicycle trails.”
The Envision Loudoun committee caused shockwaves by considering changes to the transition area that would allow 12,000 to 18,000 more homes in that area.
“Citizens are asking you not to allow the destruction of what is valued in Loudoun,” said Denise Goff. “And it just might be that what is valued is not another data center.”
The fate of the application remains uncertain. Randall and supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge), and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) have expressed concern about the application, with Randall, Higgins, and Buffington all coming out against it. Either side will need at least five votes to prevail.