Data Center Zoning Policy To Be Updated By Fairfax County Board

FAIRFAX, VA — A group of residents from the Save Bren Mar From Data Center group from the Mason District held up signs throughout Tuesday’s legislative policy committee meeting, calling calling on the Fairfax county Supervisors to end by right data center development on commercial and industrial properties.

Tyler Ray, president of the Bren Point Homeowners Association, was one of the sign holders. He explained that the group had formed after a developer announced his intention to build a data center by right on a property adjacent to their community.

“Back in 2022, the developer tried to rezone the property to make it fully I-5, so that they could put in an up to 700,000 square foot data center,” he said. “The planning commission indicated their plans to deny that application and as a result, the developer requested an indefinite deferral of it.”

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Because the planning commissioners and county staff recommended a proffer against putting a data center on the Bren Mar property, the developer didn’t want to do that. Instead, the developer decided to build the a data center that was already allowed under the current zoning ordinance.ŵ

“Currently, our zoning ordinance allows a data center by right in the C-3 and C-4 [commercial] office districts up to 40,000 square feet for an existing building,” Tracy Strunk, director of the county’s department of planning and development, told supervisors at Tuesday’s land-use policy committee meeting. “If it’s larger, they’re permitted in the I-2 and I-3 [industrial] districts up to 80,000 square feet.”

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Currently there is no maximum size for data centers on properties zoned I-4, I-5 and I-6.

“Those districts of a larger size can be approved by special exception,” she said, adding that data centers are allowed in approved development plans in properties within a Planned Residential Community (PRC), Planned Development Commercial (PDC), or a Planned Tysons Corner Urban (PTC) District.

Several board members expressed concern that some zoning districts currently allow for the development of data centers by right.

“By right does not mean my right to do anything,” said Supervisor Jimmy Bierman (D-Dranesville). “By right means my right to do a bunch of different things that we’ve put in place a lot of different requirements.”

Committee Chair Karen Smith (D-Sully) suggested that the board begin the process of updating the zoning ordinance at its next meeting on March 19, which received unanimous support from the other board members.

“Data centers are the environmental issue of our decade, from their energy use to water use to the environmental and visual impacts,” Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said. “Most of the big concerns are the noise, the distance from residents and the design standards.”

Bierman and Herrity both agreed with a suggestion made by Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) that the staff needs to develop a menu of options to strengthen the rules governing data centers and provide predictability.

March 19, 2024 – Board matter to direct county staff to begin work on crafting a new zoning amendment.

March-May 2024 – Outreach and preparation of text

June 2024 – Planning Commission

July 2024 – Board of Supervisors

Even though a property may allow for a data center to be built by right, the property would still have to go through the same approval process as other developments in Fairfax County.

Following the meeting, Ray and the other members of the Save Bryn Mar group were pleased to see the supervisors agreeing to take action.

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“I greatly appreciate the leadership of Chairman McKay, Vice Chair Smith, as well as Supervisor Jimenez (D-Mason), whose district the data center would be in, with the sense of urgency to act as well as the recognition that by right permission is not necessarily appropriate in certain industrial districts,” he said.

Although there was a lot of discussion around data centers being allowed by right in I-4 and I-5 zoning districts, Ray wanted the supervisors to extend the prohibition even further and require the property owner to file for a special exception if they wished to build a data center on any property designated as industrial.

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