Virginia's Culpeper Tech Zone Encourages Data Center Development, Heads Off NIMBY

June 12, 2024
With community protections in place in advance, the town hopes to attract additional data center development.

Earlier this year, the small town and county seat of Culpeper, Virginia announced the creation of the Culpeper Tech Zone (CTZ).

The CTZ is a predefined section of land totaling 690 acres, or just over 1 square mile, that leverages the area's existing infrastructure and places all data center development within one designated area. 

The formation of the CTZ will hopefully head off the data center sprawl and constant battles with local communities and governments that have come to define data center development in Northern Virginia.

In 2021, Culpeper County Economic Development (CCED) crafted its plan to invite data centers into the county while limiting sprawl to safeguard the area’s landscapes and residential appeal.

The county had already established five different incentivized technology zones dedicated to these companies. 

As the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors learned more about the power and fiber resources needed to support the highly-engineered data centers, they realized that by consolidating the five zones into one, they could focus resources required for the facilities without expanding power lines across the county.

Gaining Traction

The promotion of this idea has already started to gain traction. Five developers have already committed to the cause: Cielo Digital InfrastructureCloudHQ; Copper Ridge; DataBank; and Peterson Companies.

Each business has secured parcels of land inside the zone and are in various stages of early development, including filing site plans with how many data centers they will build on their lots. 

More established tech companies can easily demand enough space for an entire data center building, whereas smaller entities may only need a few server rows within one facility.

“A lot of these facilities do something different,” pointed out Brett Burnette, director of development for CloudHQ, as quoted in a CTZ blog.

“One facility might be solely for government cloud storage. You may have another facility that is wholly dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning so that when you type a question into an AI engine, you get something useful back. They are not all the same, but fundamentally, they store and process some sort of data.”

While construction of the CTZ is not done yet, Bryan Rothamel, Certified Economic Developer and director of CCED, noted, “We wanted to focus on the quality of our partnerships, not quantity.”  

Last month, Rothamel sat down with Data Center Frontier to talk about the reasoning behind the development of the CTZ.

Rothamel emphasized the benefits of concentrating data center development in a single technology zone to streamline energy and zoning processes and maximize community benefits.  

A Good Start

He also explained the history and current status of data centers in Culpeper County, which includes data center operators Swift and Equinix.

This experience with having data centers already developed in the area that is now the designated tech zone gave CCED a good start in designing the parameters of operations in the CTZ.

The experience also highlighted the community's strategic planning to attract more data centers, while considering energy infrastructure and zoning regulations.

Rothamel confirmed that the tech zone is a by-right program outlined in the county's ordinance. Advantages to building in the tech zone include tax benefits and building height increases for technology-based businesses.

Commitments from Community and Industry

Rothamel also emphasized the commitments currently being made toward development in the CTZ, and that it is not just developers asking about potential project sites.

He said that commitments past that point are already in process, including land purchase, zoning permits, and power filings with utility providers such as Dominion Energy and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. 

He also pointed out that public hearings for data centers within the tech zone have faced less opposition compared to those outside the zone. This is because the tech zone aligns with the community's comprehensive and economic development plans. 

Rothamel also noted that all of the land transactions comprising the CTZ were private, with the county assisting in marketing and rezoning efforts.

When issues of connectivity were raised, Rothmel let us know that the town was previously home to a large Federal Reserve building and that significant connectivity infrastructure was already in place.

Both the Culpeper Technology Education Center (CTEC) and Germanna Community College are working with the CCED to provide opportunities for high school and college age students to enter the trades and the information technology fields, working within the tech zone.

This is all part of the CCED’s ongoing efforts to plan for construction logistics and workforce development, ensuring community readiness.

When asked about power availability, Rothmel alluded to the aforementioned plans of Dominion Energy and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.

He explained that each individual development will require its own substations and that substations are limited to 300 megawatts each, necessitating multiple substations for larger power demands.

Looking Ahead

By establishing boundaries, getting community buy-in, and playing to their existing strengths, the Culpeper Tech Zone outlines a model by which other communities can attract data center development.

Construction on the CTZ is anticipated to begin in the next two to three years, and is projected to be complete in the 2030s. 

“Now we’re preparing for this large effort and finding vendors in Culpeper that can support the construction to keep all pieces of the effort local,” said Rothamel. "As development continues, so does the building of partnerships between Culpeper, the data centers, and the community at large."

He added, "We tried to get partners who were actively engaged in getting to know Culpeper and how their business could play a role in our community development beyond just operating here. Our partners ‘get’ Culpeper and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

“Culpeper has approached bringing in data centers innovatively,” remarked Justin Puccio, executive vice president of corporate strategy for DataBank. “DataBank anticipated enterprise and AI workload demand migrating to this region, and Culpeper is uniquely suited to support the network and power requirements. Culpepper made a smooth runway to welcome us.”



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About the Author

David Chernicoff

David Chernicoff is an experienced technologist and editorial content creator with the ability to see the connections between technology and business while figuring out how to get the most from both and to explain the needs of business to IT and IT to business.

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