On the Ground Updates – March 2024

A series of short updates from around the PEC region – Albemarle & CharlottesvilleClarkeCulpeperFauquierGreeneLoudoun, MadisonOrange & Rappahannock.

Albemarle & Charlottesville

Albemarle County landowners have donated a conservation easement that permanently protects over 184 acres of land and water along Green Creek in the community of Schuyler. The easement, held by PEC, helps protect high conservation value forest and farmland, water quality, and natural habitat, and helps provide important connectivity to other conserved lands.

Phase II of the Albemarle County AC44 comprehensive plan update process is nearing completion. We are pleased to report that the draft Rural Area chapter includes a recommendation for completion and adoption of a Rural Area land use plan, for which PEC has advocated for many months. We are reviewing and will comment on the goals and objectives for the final three chapters: Rural Area Land Use and Transportation, Development Areas Land Use and Transportation, and Community Facilities. Once these goals and objectives are completed, the AC44 process will move into Phase III, which will focus on action items for each chapter. The County’s scheduled completion and adoption of the comprehensive plan update is at the end of 2024.

A major focus of PEC is on a proposed electrical transmission line rebuild running through important Albemarle Rural Area cultural landscapes driven by the proliferation of data centers in Virginia. PEC held a community meeting in early February at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville focusing on energy infrastructure and data centers in Virginia including information on historic, natural, cultural and scenic resources that would be impacted by the proposed transmission line project.

One of PEC’s major initiatives in Albemarle addresses the need to improve the effectiveness of the County’s land conservation programs in implementing comprehensive plan updates related to its rural area and environmental stewardship objectives. We will be recommending reinstatement of the County’s Purchase of Development Rights Program, establishment of a consistent and dedicated funding source, and addition of permanent county staff capacity to support land conservation programs.

Community engagement is getting underway for a new Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Master Plan that will guide future planning, policy, and development of programs and facilities for many years. Learn more and share your feedback at engagepros.mysocialpinpoint.com/Charlottesville.


On Jan. 16, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass an updated zoning ordinance for utility-scale solar installations in Clarke County. The update originally called for a moratorium, but with input from PEC through each phase of the process, the Planning Commission chose to tighten up existing regulations and clean up language to offer more specific guidance.

The Planning Commission forwarded the Horace Virginia LLC utility-scale solar proposal to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation of approval. The commission shared our concerns about the low-sitting-row mounted panel style causing significant soil erosion to the site, which consists of a high percentage of prime agricultural soils. A number of conditions were added to the approval to address this and several other concerns of the commission.


The Town of Culpeper is overhauling its code of ordinances, a key tool for guiding land use and development in the town. This is an important process for residents as the definitions of certain districts and what uses are allowed within those districts could change. Residents are encouraged to view the draft changes on the town website at town-of-culpeper-zoning-update-project-culpeperva.hub.arcgis.com and submit comments to the Town.

Red Ace Capital, which previously rezoned and sold 85 acres of agricultural land on Route 3 to a Texas-based data center company, has submitted a new rezoning application for 17.6 acres of agricultural land next to the first property. This application is worrisomely vague, lacking a maximum square footage and height for the proposed buildings amongst other basic information. It also seeks to retain over 50 possible uses, including data centers, warehouses and gas stations. PEC is concerned about the speculative nature of this project and the many potential impacts that some of the listed uses may have on nearby residences.

On Dec. 5, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted to approve Cielo Digital Infrastructure, a 300-megawatt data center proposal with three, two-story buildings on Nalles Mill Road within the Town Water and Sewer Service District. While near other approved data center sites, it will require a new substation and possibly additional upgrades or expansion of the existing transmission lines. Supervisors were also concerned about the lack of information about the number of backup generators this facility will require and the amount of fuel that will be stored on site.

Dominion Energy has submitted its application for the Germanna Line and Substation to the State Corporation Commission. This $54.3-million project will build 1.8 miles of new transmission line and a six-acre substation to serve the Amazon-owned Marvell data center in Stevensburg. This transmission line project will cross private land and likely disrupt the viewshed of Salubria, one of the few remaining Georgian-style architecture examples in Virginia. Our understanding is that this line and substation, which will be paid for by Virginia ratepayers, are being built solely to support a single data center. We also suspect this infrastructure will encourage additional industrial development in this otherwise rural area. Community members can submit comments, referencing case number PUR-2023-0026, to the SCC before May 21, 2024 via email to sccinfo@scc.virginia.gov.


Town of Warrenton planning staff have accepted Amazon’s third submission for the proposed Amazon data center site development plan. Like its most recent submission, some information was made available to the public, but the site development plan, details on noise emitting equipment, and many responses to town staff comments were redacted. Amazon continues to justify these redactions as Virginia Freedom of Information Act exemptions intended to protect information about the facility’s security and utility systems. Discussions with Dominion about electrical service to the site are still pending.

PEC, along with Citizens for Fauquier County, Protect Fauquier, and Protect Catlett, are continuing to share information on PJM-approved transmission line proposals to serve the explosive growth of data centers in Virginia, including the upgrade of an existing 500-kv line running through Fauquier County. Dominion and other utilities are conducting community outreach for each proposal leading up to a final public hearing and decision by the State Corporation Commission.

In December, the Board of Supervisors approved a policy intended to provide guidance to data center development in the county. The policy was drafted in the final quarter of the year with the help of a working group that includes PEC, our community partners, the County Economic Development Department and data center development interests. Although not legally binding, it will have a significant influence on the County’s review of upcoming data center applications.


In a recent presentation of our land conservation and land use work in Greene County, we discussed the important role conservation easements play in protecting Greene’s rural landscapes and natural resources, highlighting two major land use concerns: 1) the potential for data center development and its associated energy infrastructure, and 2) the potential land-use, transportation, and environmental impacts of the planned Rivanna Station Futures, a public-sector development initiative associated with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Rivanna Station. An Albemarle County official recently described this initiative as potentially extending eight miles from the North Fork of the Rivanna River all the way to Greene County “with the possibility of realizing a level of potential similar to Silicon Valley at the onset” and anchoring development up to Greene County.


PEC held its third informational meeting on data centers and transmission lines at Woodgrove High School on January 22 with 170+ in attendance. We held a subsequent, online meeting on Mar. 4.

In February, the Board of Supervisors kicked off amendments to the comprehensive plan and accompanying zoning ordinance (CPAM/ZOAM) as relates to data center development in the county. PEC made recommendations on both amendments. With a focus on revising and mapping where data centers can be located, these amendments will contain more specific policy language and standards for data centers, as well as the more than 30 new substations projected to be added to the grid in eastern Loudoun. Supervisors are also taking steps to replace by-right data center development with special exceptions, to ensure there is oversight on the remaining parcels available for this kind of build out. The full CPAM/ZOAM process is expected to complete in 2025.

At the Board of Supervisors’ March public hearing, PEC will once again provide input as the board takes up three different and controversial applications: 1) a final decision on the Philomont Fire House, 2) the Village at Clear Springs, a large residential development and professional tennis facility with 16 lit outdoor courts in the Transition Policy Area, and 3) a 600 megawatt data center on the banks of Goose Creek, a project that requires a special exception and rezoning.

PEC has been providing input since the beginning of the Prime Soils and Cluster Subdivision Zoning Ordinance Amendment in 2020 and will continue as the Board of Supervisors takes up this initiative, likely in April.

On Jan. 9, the Purcellville Town Council voted to void the sale of the historic Pullen House, located near the Fireman’s Field complex, and partner with the Purcellville Historic Society to build out the property as a community park. Volunteers in the Purcellville business community are working with the historic society to plan for removal of the asbestos-filled house and add a new pavilion for use by the community for classes, parties and potentially even a farmers market.


After rejecting an earlier proposal, and in the wake of a subsequent lawsuit, the County has sold the former Criglersville Elementary School to the Richmond developer who originally proposed renovation and repurposing it into a boutique hotel and wedding venue. PEC was pleased to see an attempt to save the historic school building, but concerned about potential negative impacts connected to proposed additional lodging on site. The developer has yet to announce his plan going forward, other than to reiterate his desire to bring the structure back to life. The property is still zoned agricultural, so a special use permit would be required in order to operate a hotel or event venue.

Madison County’s comprehensive plan update process continues, with input from last fall’s community survey now being incorporated into the draft chapters. The Board of Supervisors is expected to review and approve updates to the plan in 2024. PEC is encouraging the County to approach development in a way that complements existing services and infrastructure, enhances a walkable town with everyday access to nature, and protects natural resources, open space and working farmlands. PEC will also keep residents apprised of opportunities to provide further input.


The Virginia Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that PEC filed against Orange County in October concluded in December when officials turned over non-disclosure agreements signed by 10 local officials “for the benefit of Amazon.com, Inc. and its affiliates,” as well previously redacted documents and a privilege log listing all withheld documents, avoiding a hearing in court. We filed the lawsuit against the County for improperly denying public access to documents pertaining to the 2,600-acre Wilderness Crossing rezoning request. We hope our success in this case is a reminder that local governments cannot operate behind a veil of secrecy, hiding important land use decisions from the public purview, and highlights the critical importance of local groups like PEC and others holding elected officials accountable to the laws of Virginia and the people of their communities. Read our full press release at: pecva.org/resources/press/pec-lawsuit-confirms-abuse-of-foia-by-orange-county-for-the-benefit-of-amazon.

PEC is reviewing the proposed 932-acre, 80-megawatt Sunfish utility-scale solar project, near the community of True Blue, on a productive farm that includes the ruins of historic Morton Hall. We are concerned about this project’s impacts on over 650 acres of prime farmland and/or farmland of statewide importance. No public hearing date has been set. We will continue to monitor this proposal and push the County to approve only those projects that are well-designed and -sited and that mitigate impacts to historic, cultural and natural resources.


The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission are currently considering amendments to the subdivision ordinance and tourist home standards in the County zoning ordinance. PEC staff continue to monitor these discussions.

The Virginia Department of Forestry’s Community and Urban Forestry grant program has awarded the Rappahannock County Park a grant of $18,500 for the restoration of the park’s forested area adjacent to the Rush River. PEC staff provided assistance on the grant application, which is matched by additional funding from the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District. The restoration project will include removing non-native invasive species and re-establishing native tree canopy in the riparian area.

The Sperryville Community Alliance hosted a community discussion on improving pedestrian safety in the village of Sperryville on Feb. 6. Nearly 100 people — including PEC staff — attended the event. PEC continues to monitor these discussions and support our partners in creating walkable communities.

PEC and our partners at the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection co-hosted a Conservation ‘Speed Dating’ Workshop on February 22. The event facilitated a series of one-on-one discussions between local conservation practitioners and Rappahannock landowners about available technical assistance and financial incentive programs.

This update appeared in the 2024 spring edition of The Piedmont Environmental Council’s member newsletter, The Piedmont View. If you’d like to become a PEC member or renew your membership, please visit pecva.org/join.