Northern Virginia's Loudoun County Looks to Slow Data Center Development

July 5, 2024
But are the planned restrictions actually the kiss of death for new data centers?

According to a report in the Washington Business Journal, at the June 20th Loudoun County meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Committee, Supervisor Mike Turner, well-known as a critic of data center development in the county, presented a white paper that focused on the hot button issue of the strain that data centers place on the power grid, and offered that any new data center development include proposals that will include microgrids and/or on-site power generation.

Reports had said that the board’s reaction was mixed and that the response from Dominion Energy, which supplies power to the data centers in the region, was that they would continue to provide data center connections and expand the grid as necessary.

Turner had previously campaigned to get the zoning changed for data centers from a by-right use in all zones to a conditional use, requiring that approval be granted by the board of supervisors on every new data center project -- even where data centers were currently designated as a core use for the site.

A Rapid Response, Though Seemingly Coincidental

In February 2024 a two-phase plan was put forth, and this specific issue was scheduled for a public hearing in Spring 2025.

However, on July 2, 2024 the Board of Supervisors moved forward with plans to restrict data center development by updating the county’s existing regulations and limit data center development by making changes to the current Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance amendments.

The overall goal of the changes was in line with the earlier proposal, to make all data center development conditional, requiring the board to approve any new development. The July 2nd recommendations were put forward by the county planning staff.

As reported by loundounow.com,  Project Manager Abdul Jaffari said, “We're here to provide an update on this work and to seek your input and guidance on the proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan amendment. Additionally, we're requesting your approval of the revised project plan and the resolution of intent to amend the Zoning Ordinance.”

These proposed changes would, among other things, switch a number of locations where zoning currently permits data centers to no permitted data center zones. The suggested changes were very specific in nature and laid out well-defined areas within the county where the zoning amendments would be enacted.

Mixed Reactions from the Supervisors

The reported response from the board was mixed.

On one hand, Vice Chair Julie E. Briskman hoped that the new process would allow the county to diversify its economy, reducing dependence of data center development.

Meanwhile, supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd and Caleb A. Kershner were of the opinion that the proposed changes would discourage the data center industry from future development in the county, with Umstattd expressing concern that the tax burden would be moved from commercial to residential user, and Kershner being quoted as saying that requiring a special exemption process would be a “death knell” for new data center development.

An underlying theme from the supervisors who supported the zoning amendments was that: the county perhaps was too dependent on data center revenue; that other commercial business development was being prevented due to data center operators buying up available acreage and increasing the cost of land; and that for the long-term good of the county it was important to encourage other forms of commercial development.

No final decision has been made yet on all of the changes proposed by the county planning staff. The last significant changes passed on rules to limit data center growth was in late 2022.

 

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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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