Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
Frequently Asked Questions on the Data Center Being Built in the Town of Warrenton
Following please find responses to the most frequently asked questions received by the Town of Warrenton regarding the data center. As additional questions are collected, the document will be updated.
What is the size of the data center property, where is it located and who owns it?
The property is approximately 41.705 acres. It is located on a parcel on Blackwell Rd. at the intersection of the Warrenton bypass (Route 17) with Lee Hwy. (Route 15/Route 29), adjacent to Country Chevrolet. It is owned by Amazon Data Services Inc. which acquired the property in 2021.
What is the history of the new data center and the property?
The parcel was annexed into the Town of Warrenton in 1960 and has been zoned for industrial use since at least 1970. In 2008, the former property owners (Weissberg group) attempted to rezone the property to allow for a mixed-use development which was known as Warrenton Greene. The request was ultimately withdrawn on Feb. 7, 2011.
What was the process for allowing data centers under the Town’s zoning ordinance?
On July 11, 2017, the Town Council initiated a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to research industrial centers and the possibility of adding data centers as a permitted use within the Town; however, the text amendment was not pursued with the Planning Commission nor the Town Council. On April 13, 2021, Town Council initiated another Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to allow data centers in the I (Industrial) District with the approval of a Special Use Permit (“SUP”). The Planning Commission held a work session on May 25, 2021, followed by public hearings on June 15 and July 20. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the text amendment on July 20 by a 5-1 vote. Town Council held a public hearing on Aug. 10, 2021, and approved the text amendment by a unanimous vote (7-0).
When was the Amazon Data Center Special Use Permit application first made and what has been the follow-up?
On May 6, 2022, the Special Use Permit 22-03 Amazon Data Center was accepted for processing by the Town. Staff agency comments were submitted to the applicant on June 6. The applicant submitted a second submission on July 20 and asked to be placed on the Planning Commission Work Session on July 26, 2022. The applicant submitted a third submission on Sept. 9 and held a balloon test on Sept. 15. This was followed by the applicant holding a second work session with the Planning Commission on Oct. 25. On Oct. 28, the applicant submitted its Planning Commission Public Hearing materials as required by the Planning Commission by-law 19 days before the November 15, 2022, public hearing. Of the 57 speakers, all were opposed to the application except one person. The public hearing was continued to Nov. 22 to allow all members of the public to speak. At the Nov. 22 Planning Commission meeting, the Vice Chair made a motion at the beginning of the meeting to “postpone indefinitely the review of SUP 22-03” contrary to the Town Attorney’s advice. The motion passed 5-0 and the meeting was adjourned. At the Dec. 13, 2022, Town Council meeting, staff was directed to legally advertise SUP 22-03 for the January Town Council public hearing. On Dec. 20, 2022, the Planning Commission continued the public hearing and allowed all speakers to be heard. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the Planning Commission voted to recommend denial (3-1-1 Ainsworth against, Zarabi abstain) based on:
- Lack of information regarding noise
- Lack of information regarding power
- Tax justification
- Impacts to Town's Scenic Gateway
- Lack of compliance with the Comprehensive Plan
- Impacts on viewsheds
- Lack of plan regarding if the building is decommissioned
On Dec. 20, an additional 43 speakers spoke in opposition and one speaker spoke for the application. Of the 101 total speakers, 33 were in-town residents, 4 represented in-town HOAs and 7 organizations and 57 of the speakers were from out-of-town.
The application proceeded to the Town Council Public Hearing on Jan. 10, 2023. The hearing was continued to Feb. 14, at which time the Town Council voted 4-3 to approve the SUP subject to the Special Use Permit plans, elevations, and conditions of approval.
The applicant submitted a site plan application on March 22, 2023, with comments due 60 days from accepted submission. Comments were provided to the applicant on May 19th.
What has the Town asked of the applicant and what changes have been made to the initial application?
Throughout the process, the Town has asked the applicant to address noise, elevations, landscaping, and other potential negative impacts that need to be addressed and offset through the Conditions of Approval. The Planning Commission asked for these items; however, the applicant failed to address them to the Planning Commission’s satisfaction.
By the time the application reached the Town Council, the applicant had made a number of modifications to address outstanding concerns, including:
- Making the entire building exterior out of brick
- Doubling the landscaping requirements along Blackwell and Lee Hwy.
- Removing the substation from the site—the Zoning Ordinance requires the lines to be placed underground from the substation to the data center, wherever the substation ends up being located, and to be determined by Dominion. It should be noted that this requires approval from the SCC and local land use legislative approval.
- Providing noise studies prior to receiving a Certificate of Occupancy for each phase of the building, and annually in perpetuity for the life of the use. If noise is found to exceed the Zoning Ordinance, the CO will not be granted at the time of each phase. If the noise is exceeded after the commencement of operation, the applicant will be required to mitigate it.
- Not using public water for cooling beyond the initial start-up.
- Adding a condition on how the building will be decommissioned if the use ceases.
- Agreeing to work with local public k-12 schools and community colleges on workforce programs for data center career pathways, as well as the intent to hold local job fairs for interested parties.
Is the legislative process for this application unusual?
No. All land use applications are a journey through a process. Applications are modified and living documents until the final Town Council action. The first level of review is the staff. Then come the Planning Commission work session(s), public hearing(s), and recommendation. Finally, the ultimate decision lies with the Town Council after work sessions, public hearings, and adoption.
The Zoning Ordinance Article 11-3.10.9 allows for SUP applications to be modified and additional conditions to be drafted after the Planning Commission has made its recommendation. In this case, the applicant submitted additional information to address concerns raised by staff, the Planning Commission, and the Town Council throughout the process.
Applications are refined and modified as they make their way through the approval process. It is the job of the applicant, working with staff and the decision-makers, to get the proposal to a place where the decision-makers are able to act. In this case, the applicant failed to get the requested information to the Planning Commission, resulting in a recommendation for denial. The applicant then submitted more information and worked to get the application to a point where Town Council was willing to approve the application.
Do Fauquier County and state regulations supersede the Town of Warrenton’s zoning regulations?
No. The Town of Warrenton is a municipal corporation that exercises all powers conferred upon or delegated to it under the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth. The Town governs its own zoning.
What about service districts within the Town?
In 1967, Fauquier County established service districts within its Comprehensive Plan as a means to preserve agricultural land. Service districts are the county’s urban growth areas with more intensive uses and density permitted by public water and sewer services. (See Fauquier County Comprehensive Plan Chapter 6, page 3). Note that the County’s designated “Warrenton Service District” is larger than the Town’s boundaries.
What does the Town Zoning Ordinance allow?
Legally, the Zoning Ordinance governs permitted and permissible uses on private property. Special Use Permits are permissible uses with the approval of Town Council when the conditions of approval address potential harmful impacts of the use. The Zoning Ordinance calls for SUP applications to be evaluated against 32 criteria or “issues for consideration.” The Zoning Ordinance is a regulatory document. The Comprehensive Plan is a guide. The Town of Warrenton Zoning Ordinance allows for data centers in the industrial zoned properties with SUP approval. Private property owners in Virginia are afforded rights to use their property in a manner that conforms with the local Zoning Ordinance.
Amazon Data Centers has agreed to run electric lines underground from the electric substation to the data center. Does this mean that there will be new lines to the substation?
No. Dominion Power has determined that it can service the data center with existing transmission lines. Amazon has agreed to run the lines underground from the substation and agreed to remove the substation from the site.
Where will the substation be located?
Right now, we don’t know. If a substation were to be located in the Town of Warrenton, it would be required to get separate SUP approval. Currently, there is no application for a SUP for a substation in the Town of Warrenton.
What’s next for the data center?
A site development plan, building permit, and land disturbing permit approval are required in order to begin construction of the improvements. The site development plan is currently under review by the Town.
What is a site development plan?
A site development plan is a detailed plan certified by an engineer that shows how the land around the data center building will be constructed. As a part of the site development plan, Town staff reviews the proposed construction against Town regulations found in the zoning ordinance, public facilities manual, and town code, as well as applicable sections of the Code of Virginia to make sure that the development will meet minimum standards and requirements. Staff also reviews the site development plan against the SUP approval conditions that were approved by the Town Council as a part of the public hearing process to make sure that the finished development conditions will match what was approved by the Town Council.
A typical site development plan includes information about how the land will be graded and sloped to ensure that there is good drainage that will not cause flooding to down-stream neighbors, shows how rainwater that runs off of the developed portion of the property will be treated to reduce pollution in a stormwater management facility before leaving the site, details where water, sewer, and other utility lines will be installed to serve the building with adequate sanitation, and shows the location of fire hydrants and fire lanes for emergency access so that first responders will be able to safely access the site and address emergencies. Site development plans also show where trees will be preserved or planted to make sure that the development will be buffered by landscaping to reduce negative visual impacts to neighbors, and will show the locations and details for outdoor lighting to make sure that lights will not direct glare towards roadways or neighboring properties, or cause unnecessary light pollution of the night sky. Each site development plan is specific to the individual property, and Town review staff coordinates with other Town departments as well as state agencies as needed during the review process. Review staff closely examines the plan against applicable regulations and laws, and then sends a list of comments to the engineer that details what information on the plan needs to be changed or revised to meet regulations. Once the engineer has made all the necessary changes to the plan to address staff comments, the plan will be submitted again for review.
A site development plan may take several submission-review-revision cycles before staff deems the plan to be adequate to meet all applicable regulations, standards, laws, and approval conditions. Once a site development plan is deemed to be approvable, the property owner or developer must then provide performance guarantees (bonds) to cover the cost of the construction, and record all necessary agreements and easements so that they will be legally binding documents in the land records, and apply for and receive a land-disturbing permit and a stormwater permit. A development project can legally start construction only after all of the required permits and agreements have been provided, and once construction begins, staff closely monitors and inspects the construction site to make sure that all activities on the site are in accordance with the approved plan and issued permits.