A majority on the Board of Supervisors seems set to approve a massive data center complex on the banks of Goose Creek despite sustained public protests.
The True North data center, proposed by H&H Acquisitions of Dallas, TX, would include a 750,000-square-foot data center and utility substation on 106 acres between the Dulles Greenway, Sycolin Road, and Goose Creek, across the creek from the Goose Creek Gardens and Pavilion.
Tina Cheatham, of Lovettsville, came to the board to point out that’s about 1.6 times as large as the published square footage of the Leesburg Outlets.
It would also destroy a rare ecological community called a Northern Piedmont Mafic Barren—one of only 10 such sites in the world, according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Under current zoning, the property could permit up to one house per ten acres.
That has drawn sustained public outcry from neighbors, conservation groups, and others, including the three supervisors with districts including or bordering the property—Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) and Board of Supervisors vice chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). Along with Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), they say the proposal is a good project in the wrong place.
“This is about protecting western Loudoun,” Buffington said. “And under some of the justifications I’ve heard so far about why we should do this, we might as well do this all the way out to Clarke County. We might as well do it all the way out to West Virginia.”
The project has been billed as an environmentally responsible data center. The applicants say the facility will not use water except for humidification. At a Board of Supervisors public hearing in November, the attorney representing the applicant, Cooley LLP partner Colleen Gillis, 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.
The applicant has also committed to a linear park and trail along the building setback from Goose Creek, along with planting pollinator plants and trees among other environmental considerations.
“Environmentally they’ve bent over backwards, but it’s still not the place,” Buona said. “And for those supervisors that haven’t been out there, you have to go see it.”
Supervisors who support the project point to the expected $22-$24 million in local tax revenue the project could create at full buildout.
“Let’s make it very clear that a no vote says no to that tax revenue,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
“If we want to keep our taxes at a reasonable level, we have to build our business tax base,” agreed Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “… In the end this is an environmentally sensitive data center, and it provides a massive amount of funding for our schools, our roads, our libraries, and I intend to support it.”
But supervisors opposed to the project say giving up the project doesn’t necessarily give up its benefits, pointing to the other data center spaces available in the county.
“We’re supposed to be the representatives of the people,” Randall said. “How dare us decide that we know better than all of these people. How dare us. Who do we think we are? We serve them, and in this case it’s possible that five of us have decided that the voice of the people does not matter.”
“Tonight’s vote is going to be one of the most important votes that this board takes on Loudoun County’s future,” said Higgins, whose district includes the property. “Tonight’s vote will determine the future of our county.”
Randall called a roll call for the first time. With the vote to narrowly deny the application failing 4-5, supervisors agreed to send the application to the Transportation and Land Use Committee to try to iron out some of its lingering issues. County planners continue to oppose the application and expressed concerns about preserving too little open space or visibility of the complex from Sycolin Road.
“Since there are five supervisors up here hell-bent on going against the four supervisors who represent this area, and this is going to pass, then let’s at least make it the best thing it can possibly be,” said Buona, who proposed sending the application to committee.
“I gotta tell you, we’re sticking a data center in the middle of a pristine area, and going to destroy a geological formation of which there are ten in the world,” Randall said. “You can’t make that a whole lot better, to be honest.”
Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), who chairs that committee, called a special meeting of the committee at 5 p.m. on Dec. 13, citing scheduling concerns. The committee will meet an hour before a Board of Supervisors public hearing.