Members of the Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Committee are holding a months-long discussion on where data centers should—and should not—go in Loudoun, as the industry looks to push into new territory.
While an important part of Loudoun’s tax base—so large, in fact, that the county is working to reduce its reliance on taxes from the industry—data centers also draw many complaints, especially when near homes, thanks to their large scale, noisy infrastructure and environmental impacts. The discussion was prompted in part by the realization that data centers are permitted by-right along much of the Rt. 7 corridor, which has historically been protected from that kind of industrial development.
The committee previously recommended the full board work quickly to establish a zoning overlay preventing data centers along that corridor, but supervisors instead sent the issue back to committee for a larger discussion. That discussion began in April, with more planned at its meeting Wednesday, June 1 and in July.
The Department of Economic Development has also identified an area of southeast Loudoun, which it has dubbed “Dulles Cloud South,” as potential new land for data center development. It is a proposal the department previously put forth and was rejected during the county’s work on a new comprehensive plan.
In that area, the department recommended enhanced standards such as requiring zero-carbon energy.
“We wanted to make sure that if that was considered, that it would have some sort of layer of protection, some opportunity to really restrict how that Is done in order to protect those around it, and the environment, and those kinds of things,” said Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer.
At their meeting in April, committee members were once again split but skeptical of that proposal, but were open to further exploring opening up part of that area near an intersection of major power lines, east of Auburn Farm Road and south of Braddock Road.
“You have a whole mass of land here that’s highly unpopulated, so why wouldn’t you consider using that?” said Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin). But Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said, by that logic, the county would permit data centers across the rural area—“man, we could make so much money if we had data centers all the way to the top of the Blue Ridge Mountain.”
He pointed out that would be further data center development in the county’s Transition Policy Area, which divides the Rural and Suburban policy areas.
“I think it’s silly, I think it’s completely opposite of what the public told us they want. I think that this is dangerous territory for Loudoun County,” Buffington said. “It would change the face of Loudoun County the future of Loudoun County if we start pushing data west into our more rural areas, that by policy area are designated to be that way. I think it’s a horrible, horrible idea.”
And supervisors generally agreed that data centers should not be permitted near homes—or, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) pointed out, the reverse.
“I think it’s unwise to allow residential near land that is zoned for data centers, so I think we need to look at it from that perspective as well,” she said.
Talk of limiting data center development has been answered with a coordinated campaign to push back by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, which has urged members to speak to supervisors in opposition.
Supervisors will move ahead with general policy ideas, such as permitting data centers in the Route 28 Tax District, and opposing data centers where they are today permitted by-right but where the comprehensive plan envisions mixed-use suburban neighborhoods. This week, they were expected to dive into those topics in more detail, hoping to give county planners the necessary guidance to start drafting revisions to county zoning ordinances.
“This is really, really hard stuff, this is really complex. We’re dealing with hundred-million-dollar investments within the industry, an entire industry that has staked everything on the development in Loudoun County,” said committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn). “They have been extraordinarily favorable and good community partners to Loudoun County, and we as supervisors are kind of caught in a position where we’ve got to do our due diligence on behalf of our constituents, and we want to do that in as unobtrusive and benign way as possible, but we do have to do it.”