The Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Committee has moved plans for a data center complex on Goose Creek closer to approval, taking unusual steps that accelerate that process.
The application, which seeks to permit a 750,000-square-foot data center complex on 106 undeveloped acres between Sycolin Road, the Dulles Greenway, and Goose Creek, was headed for a narrow approval during the board’s Dec. 5 meeting. Recognizing the application had enough votes to pass, Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), who opposes the application, suggested sending it first to committee for more work.
Committee Chairwoman Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), called a special meeting Wednesday. During the session, she took the unusual step of enforcing time limits on discussion among board members, giving each three minutes.
That irked the two members of the committee who oppose the application, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin).
“We have never run a time clock in a subcommittee meeting, because the subcommittee meetings are where we want to get all of our questions answered so we can make better recommendations to the full board,” Randall said. “And it is hard to do that in three minutes.”
“I, too, tried to convince the chair of the committee not to rush this meeting so we have more time to talk about this thing, but she chose not to, so here we are,” Higgins said.
The critical action date, by which the full Board of Supervisors must make a decision on the application, is in May 2018.
After the meeting, Volpe said the special meeting was intended to avoid making the applicant wait for weeks until meetings in January or February for final action.
“You don’t want an applicant to just wait for what could be the equivalent of six weeks, not being able to do anything,” she said. “This way, by having this meeting now, we’ve now given staff and the applicant the direction, so they can work on revised site plans, revised proffers, et cetera, et cetera, so the process can continue to move forward.”
Randall and Higgins used the the committee meeting to point out what they see as the application’s flaws, centered largely on its impact to the creek, the environment, and the low-density development which county planning policies envision for that area.
The proposal is located across the Dulles Greenway from an industrialized area that includes a Loudoun Water facility, the Panda Stonewall power plant, and Luck Stone property. The project’s supporters on the board say that means the area is already industrialized; its opponents say the line must be drawn at the Greenway. The application is in the transition policy area between suburban east and rural west, and its opponents worry approving it would open the floodgates to industrial development into the transition area and rural west.
“If Goose Creek is not an adequate buffer, and if the—whatever it is—400, 500, 600 feet of the Greenway is not an adequate buffer, if this facility is approved, what would be considered an adequate buffer to prohibit the growth of these one right after the other all the way up that area?” Higgins said.
By the end of the meeting, the applicant, Compass Data Centers, represented by Cooley LLP, had volunteered to paint all the buildings on the campus in earth tones, rather than just the buildings on the perimeter. The applicant resisted Higgins’ suggestion to paint the buildings in digital camouflage.
With approval, applicant will commit to capping the maximum height of the buildings along Sycolin Road to 27 feet; providing a one-time $50,000 payout to the county for a scholarship; and planting trees and landscaping around the perimeter of the property to help screen the data center complex from the road.
The application also comes with commitments to stormwater mitigation and other environmental considerations. Opponents of the applications are concerned about putting an industrial facility with diesel generators along Goose Creek upstream of a reservoir used by Loudoun Water.
With the meeting running several minutes past the scheduled start of the full Board of Supervisors meeting, Randall suggested the panel adjourn before taking a final vote, which would continue the issue to a future committee meeting. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) instead moved to call the question, cutting short any further debate and forcing an immediate vote.
The committee recommended approving the application 3-2. Meyer, Volpe, and Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) voted yes; Randall and Higgins were opposed.