Data Centers

Imperiled by Development, Wilderness Battlefield Named One of Nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Imperiled by Development, Wilderness Battlefield Named One of Nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Wilderness Battlefield, site of a pivotal clash that marked a turning point in the Civil War, was named one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places due to the threat of a massive data center development that would irrevocably destroy the historic landscapes fundamental to maintaining the area as a vital educational resource and treasured hallowed ground.

Tell Congress: Support the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act

Tell Congress: Support the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act

The human and environmental costs of the data center industry are only predicted to worsen with the rise of cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence applications. That’s why we’re supporting a new congressional bill, the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act of 2024.

Additional Information: Belmont Innovation Campus Rezoning

Often, data center rezoning applications that come before the Board of Supervisors are, in fact, not submitted by data center developers like Meta, Amazon Web Services, etc. Rather, many rezonings are at the request of landowners, real estate investors and speculators who hope for a myriad of profitable business ventures. This may include reselling a property, leasing a property or leasing data center space for other businesses (e.g. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) that build and operate data centers for other businesses).

And while the Board of Supervisors is not responsible for guaranteeing shareholder profit, it is responsible for the welfare of its residents. Therefore, supervisors should consider the following when reviewing rezonings and special exception permits for data center development:

  • Existing data center development in Loudoun has already altered the look and feel of the place we call home and threatens more change, from industrializing residential areas to adding new transmission line corridors and substations.
  • Statewide climate goals are hindered by the explosive energy demand of the data center industry in Northern Virginia, which now exceeds any other industry in the state. This energy demand has contributed to the need for a fracked gas power plant in Chesterfield Virginia and delayed retirement of coal facilities in West Virginia.
  • Also contributing to emissions from Loudoun County is the proliferation of backup diesel generators associated with these data centers. The over 4,000 diesel generators permitted in Loudoun will grow with each new land use approval, contributing to emissions and threatening local air quality and the health of nearby residents if they are used to avoid grid instability.
  • Competition for data center development has driven land prices so high that other businesses, including services and retailers, are struggling to locate in the county.
  • Over-reliance on this single, globalized industry for its local tax base has created financial risk for Loudoun County and its residents.

In December 2023, the Board of Supervisors adopted new data center standards in its zoning ordinance, recognizing that data center development can negatively affect residents and the look and feel of Loudoun neighborhoods. The Board should do whatever possible to ensure that the new data center standards, or their equivalent, are applied in every applicable case.

In this case, where the applicant has agreed to limit the rezoning request to only the square footage that is permitted by-right, it is appropriate for the Board to ask staff for a deeper analysis to evaluate the following question: Which scenario – this rezoning or a new by-right development – best protects residents, Goose Creek and the grid from future impacts? Conventional wisdom says rezonings with proffers are better, but that may not be true in this case.

If the Board rejects this application, and a new proposal is submitted for the site under the updated zoning standards, the following would apply:

  • No data center buildings would be allowed on the A-3parcels, and the GI zoning requirements don’t allow as much intensity of development as the IP zoning category
  • Stronger height restrictions would be imposed on buildings adjacent to homes with more design requirements including greater stepbacks.
  • Building and parking setback requirements would be larger. For example, under the new standards, the setback of data centers from lot lines would be 200 ft, compared to 100 ft under the rezoning.
  • Noise studies and noise protections, lighting requirements and generator testing limitations would be imposed.
  • There would be additional protections for trees and native planting requirements.
  • A trail along Goose Creek would be required as determined by Loudoun County Parks and Recreation.

The smaller building envelopes allowed under by-right zoning, along with the new standards, could reduce the buildable square footage of data centers on the site from what would be possible under a rezoning.

For all the reasons above, PEC doesn’t support new rezonings and special exceptions for data centers until the CPAM and ZOAM have been adopted. In this particular case, the rezoning gives the developer maximum flexibility without adhering to the new data center standards and maximizes the potential to achieve the full 1.3 million square feet of development. They could also submit a request to amend the proffers in the future to allow even more space, if deemed in substantial conformance. This would not require a whole new data center legislative application and the new standards would still not apply. 

On the Ground Updates – March 2024

A series of short updates from around the PEC region.