Controversial Data Center Advances Social Media Lights Up In Protest
– By Andrea Gaines
On Tuesday, Dec. 5 the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 4 to move the controversial, 750,000 sq. ft. True North Data Center project forward, sending the development application on to the Transportation and Land Use Committee. The TLUC meeting will take place on Dec. 5, with probable final BOS action on the application in early January, 2018.
The spirted, 4-5 debate saw Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge), Board Vice Chair Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) and Board Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) voting against the data center, with Supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run), Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) voting in favor.
Facebook and other social media sites lit up in protest, with both citizens and members of the Board sharply criticizing the vote.
Said Buffington, “Tuesday night’s vote regarding the True North Data Center was in my opinion, the worst this Board has taken and one that sets the wrong precedent for allowing data centers south of the Greenway within our Transition Policy Area (TPA).”
“This is about protecting western Loudoun,” Buffington went on to say. “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.”
From a tax revenue point of view, data centers represent cold, hard cash. And, supporters of the project, including Umstattd have been sharply criticized for emphasizing the tens of millions in tax revenue the project will bring in, while downplaying the project’s environmental impact.
Opponents also point out that approving a data center project in the TPA will create a data center land rush – in areas of the County where land is relatively cheaper.
County staff remains opposed to the application.
As the Blue Ridge Leader went to press on the evening of Dec. 5, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors was holding a regular business meeting to include a possible vote on the True North Data Center application. The application has three parts:
A Zoning Map Amendment to rezone 106 acres from low-density Transitional Residential (10 homes on the 100+ acres) to a Planned Development – Office Park. The amendment provides for the construction of a 750,000 sq. ft. data center and a dedicated and/or distribution utility substation. (ZMAP-2017-0003)
A Zoning Modification that relaxes the rules for how requirements for tree canopy cover are calculated as the land is developed. (ZMOD-2017-0011)
A Minor Special Exception to relax sidewalk requirements, modify landscape buffer requirements and allow fencing to replace a required berm. (SPMI-2017-0020)
The County staff had earlier recommended that the application be denied. The area is in the Transition Policy Area and designated “for Residential uses at a density of up to 1 dwelling unit per 10 acres.” If approved, this would be the first data center in the TPA, running in strict opposition to the overwhelming citizen sentiment expressed as part of the Envision Loudoun process to keep the TPA as is.
Per documents submitted in preparation for a Sept. 26 public hearing, the Commission said: “Staff cannot support a Planning Commission recommendation of approval to the Board of Supervisors. The proposed PD-OP zoning district and data center land use are inconsistent with the Revised General Plan policies for the Transition Policy Area. The Plan identifies the Suburban Policy Area as the appropriate location for uses of the scale and intensity proposed with these applications. The application is premature in light of the Envision Loudoun process, which includes evaluation of the Transition Policy Area.”
While the voting members of the Planning Commission had softened their approach towards the project going into a Nov. 15 public hearing, the staff remained opposed to approval. In addition, at that hearing only 5 members of the public spoke in favor of the data center with twenty-two in opposition. At the conclusion of the Nov. 15 hearing, the matter was forwarded to the Board’s Dec. 5 Business Meeting.
In an email update issued on Nov. 30, BOS Chair Phyllis Randall said: “The True North Data Center application was forwarded to the December 5th Board meeting for a vote. I believe approval of this application would set a precedent for data centers in the Transition Policy Area before Envision Loudoun is completed. The data center market has been great for the County, but this data center is in the wrong location. Although the applicant has addressed some of the environmental concerns, it would be an intensive use in an area that is environmentally sensitive and rural.”