Last night the Board of Supervisors voted, against staff recommendations and strong opposition by citizens, 5-4 to deny a motion by Supervisor Geary Higgins to disapprove the True North data center on the banks of Goose Creek. Supervisors Ron Myer, Matt Letourneau, Kristen Umstattd, Suzanne Volpe, and Koran Saines voted to place the data center, in undisturbed farmland, upstream of the public water intake along Goose Creek, setting a precedent for industrial development of the entire Transition Area.
A second motion by Supervisor Ralph Buona, to send the proposal back to the Transportation and Land Use Committee (TLUC) to address outstanding issues with the proposal, passed 5-4. That motion was supported by Higgins, Phyllis Randall, Tony Buffington, and Saines.
The TLUC meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday, December 13, before the BOS public hearing. This will enable the BOS to vote at the first rather than the second January board meeting, and that it will probably go back to the full BOS for a final vote on Tuesday, January 2.
Buona, Higgins, Buffington, and Randall made strong arguments in favor of listening to constituents, protecting the Transition Area, suspending such zoning changes until after the Envision Loudoun process was complete, and giving extra weight to issues that directly affect opposing supervisors’ districts.
Those arguments did not work. Letourneau forwarded the “Ashburn is full of data centers and my constituents hate them” argument for putting the “hated” structures in the Transition Area instead (Higgins’s district). Umstattd repeated the assertion that the revenue from the center would go to the schools (which the Board of Supervisors has repeatedly declined to fully fund with any revenue sources for years). Volpe and Saines made no comments to explain their votes in favor of the data center.
Various speakers at the public comments periods in the past several months have focused on the legal and planning precedent this decision sets for Loudoun, but Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition Chair Al Van Huyck focused on another planning precedent: Why should developers pay $1 million an acre for a data center site in “data center alley” when vastly cheaper land (e.g., the True North site) can gain approval elsewhere?
That is to say, any site near power lines in rural areas of the county may conceivably be scouted for lucrative, potential data center sites. Because these centers, with few employees, do not add much traffic to roads, few transportation improvements are needed for such large industrial sites.
Other speakers, supervisors, and Chair Randall, addressed the revenue and “lack of a single large parcel” assertions. The recent Google announcement of the purchase of two parcels for two large data centers (which will roughly cover the area of the True North venture), a number of other currently available sites, and the possibility of building vertically, are reasons to doubt the “no available sites” argument. In addition, Economic Development’s Buddy Rizer stated that a number of other new data centers will be constructed in the coming year. (It was Rizer, however, who “fast-tracked” this application for the Transition Area location.)