Letter: Proposed Data Center Amendment Won't Protect You

Letter: Proposed Data Center Amendment Won't Protect You

Don’t think a 24/7 mind-numbing noise, transmission lines through your yard, or higher electric bills will happen to you? How close do you live to a property where a massive data center can be built by-right? Closer than you think as nearly all the I-5 lands are adjacent to residential in Fairfax County.

The new ordinance was supposed to implement the recommendations of the long-awaited Jan. 9, 2024 Data Center Report but falls far short; it’s proposing to require a noise study up front rather than waiting for residents to complain after it is built, to require noise generating equipment to be enclosed (which is mostly impossible for HVAC/tower-cooling systems so it allows for a simple administrative override) and stops short of requiring Special Exception approval – something Loudoun County will be doing as part of its Zoning Ordinance changes this year. https://www.loudoun.gov/5990/Data-Center-Standards-Locations.

The County says they can’t require air or water quality mitigation or protections, or stricter noise regulations, or set electrical limits with the Zoning Ordinance. But they can certainly improve their chances if they require a Special Exception approval so that all can weigh in like they did on Jan. 23, 2024 with the Chantilly Premier Mega Data Center (SE 2022-SU-00038) – the tallest and largest single data center building in Fairfax County which, through the Special Exception process, was able to secure dozens of commitments (proffers) that require the noise at the residential boundaries to be below the Noise Ordinance; require Tier 4 backup generators to reduce air pollution and spill potential (most data centers use cheaper Tier 2); require a new noise study every time noise generating equipment is added; require monitoring and mitigating at the source for sodium, bromide and other chemicals released into our water, etc. Chairman McKay even stated, “if we’re going to do any data centers in Fairfax County”...”the ones we do in this county are going to be done at the highest standard we can possibly foresee.”

Like the Chantilly data center, I-5 districts have evolved over time and although the County wants you to believe the I-5 and I-6 districts are for their “messiest” of uses, so we should continue to allow enormous data centers by-right, the reality is that these districts are adjacent to residential districts and/or environmentally sensitive areas. Is that bad zoning? Yes, but the only thing that can be done to mitigate these poorly zoned areas is to require data centers (and let’s compromise with the county here – data centers over 80,000 SF) in ANY industrial district, to be approved through the Special Exception process.

The June 5 (7pm) Planning Commission and July 16 (4pm) Board of Supervisors Public Hearings will determine if we keep ignoring the problem or we require a Special Exception to at least give citizens and the environment a fighting chance. Please email your comments, subject Data Center Zoning Amendment, to your Supervisor (ClerkToTheBos@fairfaxcounty.gov), Planning Commissioner (plancom@fairfaxcounty.gov), or, sign up to speak in-person or via phone or pre-recorded video. https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/planning-development/data-centers

Cynthia Shang

Chantilly, VA

President, Save Pleasant Valley