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Proposed data center in Chantilly stirs up controversy ahead of community meeting

A planned data center on the south side of Route 50 near Stonecroft Blvd is already stirring up some controversy, well ahead of a hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission.

An affiliate of Penzance, a D.C.-based firm, is seeking the county’s permission to rezone a nearly 12-acre piece of land to develop one of two options: a 402,000-square-foot data center or a 150,000-square-foot warehouse.

Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said a Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting originally set for June 28 has been deferred. She plans to host a community meeting sometime in July.

“The applicant did not reaffirm their affidavit in time,” Smith said regarding the hearing’s deferral.

To move forward with the plan — called Chantilly Premier — the county would have to rezone the property from a split zoning of light and heavy industrial uses and commercial uses to industrial uses with a higher developmental intensity.

Although the proposed data center would exceed the recommended intensity of uses outlined by the county, staff said that increased intensity was justified because the land is located in the Route 28 Special Tax District.

The applicant also wants a special exception to increase the allowed height of the data center from 75 feet to 110 feet, arguing that the added height is necessary to accommodate rooftop equipment and screening.

The data center option would include 50 parking spaces to the south of the three-story building, four loading spaces, and an 8-foot-tall security fence within the outside of an environmentally sensitive area.

The second option for a warehouse would include 150 parking spaces, a loading dock with 30 spaces, trailer parking, and a stormwater bio-retention area. The applicant would also pursue LEED green building certification for the warehouse.

The proposal has already gained opposition from residents of the Pleasant Valley neighborhood in Chantilly.

Cynthia Shang, who lives in the community of more than 500 single-family homes, said the neighborhood has serious concerns about the proposal’s intensity, incompatibility, and environmental impacts.

“Our top concern is that our representatives are rubber stamping these data centers with little regard for the negative impacts to the residents’ quality of life and the environment,” she told FFXnow by email. “Neither the data center nor the ‘fallback’ parcel distribution warehouse (which would require air and noise polluting diesel fueled semi-trucks to U-turn at Pleasant Valley, endangering our student drivers going to Westfield HS) are appropriate for the environmentally sensitive area.”

At the requested height, the data center would dwarf surrounding buildings, Shang said. She’s also concerned about noise generated from 115 exhaust fans, 18 air handling units and 20 diesel generators, along with potential impacts of having diesel and exhaust fluid near environmental sensitive areas.

“That amount of diesel and exhaust fluid immediately adjacent to the Comprehensive Plan’s sensitive environmental areas, including a tributary that flows to the Occoquan Reservoir that supplies our drinking water, should not be acceptable,” she wrote. “Accidents and fires happen. This upzoning to accommodate data centers must stop.”

Readopted on May 9, the county’s updated zoning ordinance banned data centers from residential districts and established new regulations related to size, cooling, ventilation and equipment enclosures.

However, the facilities are permitted by right in some commercial and industrial districts, including ones where they could exceed the size limits with a special exception.

The Board of Supervisors told staff last month to research the environmental issues posed by data centers and potential new guidelines, acknowledging the trepidation around the industry both locally and elsewhere in Northern Virginia.

Located near a collection of auto dealerships, the area was previously approved for a 40,000-square-foot vehicle sales or rental business on the northern side and a 20,000-square-foot business for vehicle storage and services — an option that county staff say was less efficient than the current proposal.

Despite getting approved in 2020, those plans were never implemented. Last year, the Penzance affiliate bought the property, most of which sits on a floodplain, for $10 million.

“The approved auto sales/service/storage establishment included expansive surface parking areas and two garage options, allowing up to 1,857 parking spaces on site, and would produce more vehicle trips than the proposed data center and warehouse uses,” a county staff report says.

The site also contains a Resource Protection Area (RPA) and a floodplain. Most of the RPA area is within a permanent VDOT utility easement and drainage easement. The wetlands and vegetation in the area would be preserved, though the project would disturb up to 55 feet from some environmentally sensitive areas.

Both options would disturb roughly 0.2 acres of the RPA.

“An administrative water quality impact assessment and floodplain use determination would be required during the site plan review process for the proposed encroachments in the RPA and floodplain,” staff wrote. “The outfall encroachment into these environmentally sensitive areas is limited to a single outfall.”

A proposed proffer would dedicate the environmentally sensitive area to the Fairfax County Park Authority so that invasive plants can be removed and the land can be incorporated into the Cub Run Stream Valley Park.

The applicant also hopes to install tree protection devices, like welded wire attached to steel posts.