Members of the Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Committee were mixed on a proposal to allow data center development to expand into southeastern Loudoun, in areas south of Braddock Road between Northstar Boulevard and the county’s eastern border.
That would allow data centers across Rt. 50 from South Riding, and around Dawson’s Corner. It would also allow data centers into the county’s Transition Policy Area, an area meant to buffer the county’s suburban and urban east from its rural west, and where dense and industrial development is mostly forbidden.
The proposal comes from Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development following an 18-month study of the county’s remaining land available for data center development. The new data center alley is tentatively dubbed “Dulles Cloud South.” It also springs from Loudoun’s dominance in the data center market— Department of Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer said the Northern Virginia data center market is bigger than the next six U.S. data center markets combined, and 80% of that market is in Loudoun. And while Loudoun is the place to be—he said the county hasn’t proactively marketed to data centers in five years.
“When you become the undisputed leader in anything, you have to be careful to manage the growth,” he said.
Rizer acknowledged his department made a similar suggestion during the work to update the county’s comprehensive plan during the previous Board of Supervisors term, a suggestion which did not make it into the new plan.
The proposal is an alternative to allowing data centers along Rt. 7 where county zoning permits them along large areas of the road between Leesburg and Rt. 28, he said.
“What we have learned is that Dominion Power will likely be required by statute to run high voltage power lines through this corridor, and it could be up to three miles of towers down Rt. 7, if even one data center was built on the Rt. 7 corridor,” Rizer said.
Instead, that area of southeastern Loudoun was proposed in part because there are already high-voltage lines nearby.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who represents part of the proposed Dulles Cloud South, said he is adamantly opposed to the idea.
“I don’t want see any more than the one that’s already there within the [Transition Policy Area] south of the [Dulles] Greenway,” Buffington said, referring to the Board of Supervisors’ narrow 5-4 vote last term to approve a 750,000-square-foot data center complex between Sycolin Road, the Dulles Greenway, and Goose Creek, which he opposed. “And this Dulles Cloud South idea is horrible to me, in my opinion. I will fight this so hard every step of the way.”
Buffington said if the existing undeveloped land for data centers fills up, “then maybe we have just run out of data center space.”
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) was also opposed.
“I certainly would not support any data centers in the Transition Policy Area. When we start creeping in those places, it’s just not a long time to creep further,” she said.
But supervisors agreed that data centers should be kept off of Rt. 7. The committee voted unanimously to recommend the Board of Supervisors seek the fastest way to update the zoning rules to prevent data centers along Rt. 7. One approach to that work is already underway; the county is working to update its zoning ordinances to reflect the new 2019 comprehensive plan, which does not call for data centers in that area either.