Stafford County has been working quietly for years to become part of the data center building boom in Virginia. Its moment may be at hand.
A developer has filed plans for a 25-building data center campus on a 523-acre property in Falmouth, Virginia. The Stafford Technology Campus would be built in phases, with a total buildout of 5.5 million square feet of space upon completion - a scale that would place it among the world's largest data center MegaCampuses.
The project is the first of several proposals for new data centers in Stafford County, which would further extend the huge cloud cluster in Northern Virginia, which has been steadily expanding to accommodate strong demand for data centers in the region.
Stafford County is south of Prince William County, and the Falmouth site is about 55 miles due south of Data Center Alley, the huge Internet intersection located in Ashburn in Loudoun County. The market has also extended north across the Potomac into Frederick County, Maryland where developer Quantum Loophole is building a "data center city."
All of these growing sub-markets of Ashburn have likely benefited from power constraints in Loudoun County that will limit new construction in the next several years as Dominion Energy expands its regional transmission capacity.
In recent years Stafford County has been courting data center development, hoping to benefit from "spillover" projects from the increasingly crowded cloud corridors in Loudoun and Prince William. Economic development officials have attended industry events in Northern Virginia, and in 2019 the county lowered its tax rate on the purchase of computer equipment to match Prince William County.
"We have been talking with and working with a number of data center prospects for over four years now,” Stafford County Economic Director John Holden recently told local media. The county now lists data centers as a key industry, stating that "Stafford wants to be the next place for data centers in the NOVA-Fredericksburg Corridor."
Courting Future Amazon Cloud Campuses
"The Fredericksburg region is in prime position to compete for multiple campuses amounting to millions of square feet and hundreds of millions in property taxes annually," wrote Scott Mayausky, the commissioner of revenue for Stafford County in a recent op-ed. "Stafford is facing many financial challenges over the next 10 years. Public safety, education, transportation and general government needs cannot be met with the current tax structure. Property owners can only bear so much of the tax burden for the billions of dollars of impeding expenditures. It is time to responsibly embrace this emerging technology and leverage it to our advantage."
Mayausky specifically noted the recent news that Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion in data center infrastructure in Virginia over the next 15 years. Gov. Glenn Youngkin said "numerous" sites in Virginia are under consideration for the future AWS campuses.
The Falmouth project is the latest proposed MegaCampus - massive projects that shift major chunks of Internet infrastructure away from crowded urban and suburban landscapes, and onto campuses designed entirely around the needs of hyperscale operators. It’s a vision of cloud campuses built to support the digital shift sweeping society, as well as a ground-up focus on sustainability.
Efforts to establish large data center parks in Virginia are encountering resistance from community groups and public officials.
- In Prince William County, the potentially huge PW Digital Gateway project is fielding rezoning applications for up to 23 million square feet of data center development, but is also prompting protests from community groups.
- In Loudoun County, county staff proposed a Dulles Cloud South data center district that could support up to 56 million square feet of data center development, but the plan was rejected by county supervisors.
- A proposal for an Amazon Web Services data center campus in Fauquier County was approved in February by the Warrenton Town Council in a narrow vote after more than 130 residents spoke at the meeting, including many who opposed the project.
Stafford Technology Campus LC shares an address with The Peterson Companies, a developer that has worked with other data center companies, including a STACK infrastructure project in Prince William County.
The applicant is seeking to rezone 524 acres for data center use (M1 zoning). The developer plans to extend existing public water and sewer service to the property, and says it is "in discussions with the County’s Department of Utilities to review the utility infrastructure and looking at ways in which the surrounding infrastructure can be improved through a partnership with the Applicant."