Supervisors on May 17 approved changes to plans for a data center complex on Sycolin Road and Goose Creek, with the majority arguing those changes improve one of the most controversial approvals from the last board’s term.
In 2018, the county approved voted to approve a 750,000-square-foot data center complex on 106 wooded acres, raising intense protest, especially from environmental groups. The complex is both next to the river and threatened a rare ecological community called the Northern Piedmont mafic barren. It was one of the most hotly contested votes of that board’s term.
The developer, Compass Datacenters, later returned with a request to revise that application, removing the two proposed buildings closest to the Dulles Greenway, one of which is also the closet to the river, and creating an option to combine three 35-foot buildings in the center of the property into a single 56-foot building. That would bring the campus down to 625,000 square feet of data center development. They also offered to protect more open space and to protect the mafic barren, which has not yet been destroyed.
The developer’s representative, Cooley LLP attorney Colleen Gillis, told supervisors after the 2018 approval, the market changed, requiring the shift in plans to develop the site.
Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) said the changes now make the existing approval better, and make “a lot of sense.”
Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), who supported the original application in 2018, said at that time it was “probably the most environmentally application that we had seen for data centers at the time.”
“This applicant has worked very hard to make this even better, and I know it has been a really tough and long process for them,” she said. “I really want to thank them for their dedication and commitment to the county. They are helping us grow our economy in an environmentally neutral and even beneficial way.”
“The application that we have up for a vote now does help reclaim and protect some of the vital environmental aspects of our county,” said Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Ashburn).
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who both were on the board and voted not in 2018, once again voted against. Buffington cited his continued opposition to data centers in the county’s Transition Policy Area south of the Greenway.
Randall also said after previously being told that the developer had a deal in place, to later be told it was a handshake deal that fell through, said she will vote against because she does not trust the applicant.
She also challenged supervisors Umstattd and Glass.
“How anyone could ever say the data center helps the environment in any way—it could be a data center that is less harmful than other data centers, that’s possible, that’s possible, but it can’t be a data center that actually helps the environment,” Randall said. “You’re not going to improve the environment by building a data center on the Goose Creek.”
Supervisors voted 7-2 to approve the changes to True North plans.