The Town Planning Commission held its first work session on the special use permit (SUP) last week. Amazon’s representatives gave a presentation that lacked many specifics on the proposed site and building configuration. Fortunately, some members of the Commission shared many of the same concerns expressed by PEC and the community, including the proposal’s inconsistency with the Town’s comprehensive plan, failure to incorporate information about new electrical infrastructure needed for the project, and lack of visual/noise impacts to the Warrenton gateway and nearby residential communities.
Although Amazon submitted a load request letter to Dominion for service to its new site, which triggered the current transmission line routing review process that’s ongoing, Amazon’s legal representatives continued to assert that the substation and transmission line were completely separate from the SUP for the data center. We know that this is not the case, and it is reassuring that some of the planning commissioners challenged the premise. When pushed by commissioners, Amazon’s attorney acknowledged that the data center would in fact need the substation and transmission line once “fully operational.” Since Amazon has always intended to operate the data center at full capacity (after all, utilizing only a small portion of the building’s capacity would make little financial sense), we see this as a game of smoke and mirrors. Like any land use application, the SUP application should be evaluated on the final buildout of the facility. We hope the Planning Commission continues to ask the necessary questions and that it will holistically review the SUP application with regard to broader implications for County and Town residents.
In preparation for the upcoming Planning Commission work session on August 23, PEC, Citizens for Fauquier County, and Protect Fauquier will together host a town hall to highlight our concerns regarding the data center and its broader impacts and to share actions residents can take to oppose the proposal.
More Questions Than Answers
Leading up to the July 26 work session, community groups Citizens for Fauquier County and Protect Fauquier submitted a number of questions (CFFC, PF) about the SUP to the Town Planning Commission. We agree that the application is incomplete, failing to include sufficient information about:
Data centers are well known as heavy power users that often require new substations, which is why the Town’s zoning code (see pages 54-55) includes a requirement for screening of the data center’s substation. However, this application fails to incorporate any information about the substation or transmission line impacts.
Amazon said it would comply with the Town’s noise ordinance; however, it has not conducted a study to assess noise impacts or provided information as to how it will comply with the Town’s noise ordinance. The noise impacts of the data center, its specific generator testing procedures and the associated substation all need to be evaluated.
Although Amazon did a rough rendering “demonstrating” limited visual impact, it was not a comprehensive visual analysis and far from compelling. It only included two viewpoints, did not use the actual height of the building with the equipment on top, and did not include the substation along Blackwell Road or the transmission line needed to serve the site. While Amazon has agreed to a balloon study, a full viewshed analysis and visualizations demonstrating the visual impact of the proposal are still needed.
Amazon explained that there will be lighting both on the building and around the fencing perimeter. Because the site is on a higher elevation than the surrounding area, lighting on the building’s perimeter fencing could be very visible along roadways and could impact adjacent properties. A comprehensive study of the light impact needs to be conducted to address this issue.
The data center includes a number of diesel generators and onsite storage tanks, each with up to 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel. These backup generators are usually cycled regularly, which can result in noise impacts and the release of air pollutants. The SUP does not include any insights into how Amazon will mitigate these impacts. Although the storage tanks would be double walled and up-to-standard, Amazon also did not include any information about spill containment, which can happen during filling or as a result of accidents or natural disaster.
Inconsistency with Town’s Comprehensive Plan
In April 2021, the Town adopted a new comprehensive plan that identifies this parcel as a part of the “New Town District,” an area described as having a mix of uses including office, residential, green space, and public amenities. A data center seems outside of that vision.
At this point in the SUP review process, one thing is clear: the impacts of this proposal on the community are broad, from the addition of a transmission line to major adjustments to the Town’s newly adopted comprehensive plan. The Planning Commission must insist on a complete application with the specifics we addressed above. With a proposal this large and a site this prominent in the Warrenton community, the Town cannot afford to get it wrong.
Fortunately, the Planning Commission does not appear to be moving as fast on the proposal as previously thought. The Commission scheduled a second work session for Tuesday, August 23; no public hearing has been scheduled yet.
To highlight our concerns and the next steps for opposing this application, PEC, Citizens for Fauquier County and Protect Fauquier will host a joint town hall on Wednesday, August 10 from 7 – 9 p.m. at the PATH Foundation building in Warrenton (321 Walker Dr, Suite 301 – Fauquier Room, second floor, Warrenton, VA 20186). We hope you’ll attend to learn more about the proposed data center, its required transmission line and how you can get involved.
We continue to urge you to:
- Write to the Planning Commission. As we saw last week, the commissioners share many of our concerns. Urge them to thoughtfully and thoroughly review the application and its broader implications for the community.
- Attend the next Planning Commission work session on Tuesday, August 23. Although citizens will not be invited to speak, broad attendance by concerned community members, as was done at the last work session, keeps pressure on commissioners. The Planning Commission agenda and any new application materials will be posted online a few days prior to the meeting.
- Write to the Town Council and ask council members to turn down Amazon’s SUP application. If you live in Town, be sure to reach out directly to the Town Council representative who covers your Ward.
- Speak up at “citizen’s time” at the beginning of Warrenton Town Council meetings. Town Council meetings typically occur the second Tuesday of every month. The next citizen’s time is Tuesday, August 9 at 6:30 p.m.
- Reach out to the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors. Write to email@example.com and urge them to oppose the Amazon data center and the new transmission line and substation associated with the proposal.
For more updates, visit pecva.org/blackwell.