Speak up for a stronger Data Center Zoning Ordinance

There are more data centers in Northern Virginia than anywhere else in the world.

The lure of revenue from data centers for our locales is significant, but so are data centers’ environmental impacts, both in the short- and long-term.

Fairfax County’s data center regulations are open for public comment right now (through July 16).

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors are seeking resident feedback on a Zoning Ordinance Amendment (ZOA) with their stated goal of this process to “strengthen the current provisions for data centers”. This is our opportunity to ensure Fairfax County better meets our climate goals, ensure we have clean water, and reflect our sustainable land use needs, and all through the lens of equitable development and our One Fairfax policy.

The Planning Commission offered good recommendations

The issue of data center regulations was first considered at a public hearing at the Planning Commission. On June 5, I testified, along with over 50 others, to Fairfax County’s Planning Commission (PC) at their public hearing. Based on feedback, the PC passed along recommendations for stronger protections to our Board of Supervisors to consider at a public hearing on July 16.

We need your voice today!

The Board of Supervisors’ public hearing on the Data Center Zoning Ordinance Amendment is being held on Tuesday, July 16 @ 4pm (and likely for several hours). While the Planning Commission offered good recommendations, it is solely up to the Board’s discretion to further strengthen or weaken the regulations. We need your voice to speak up in support of the Planning Commission’s recommendations and more.

Testify in-person (with me!), via phone, or via video

I’ll be there on July 16, signed up as Speaker #1. Whether you’re a seasoned advocate, or brand new, your voice is even more powerful when you show up in person.

Join dozens of environmental advocates who will be there on July 16 – sign up to be a speaker ASAP!

Write a quick letter

Your email doesn’t need to be long: even a short letter lets our decision makers know you want stronger protections! We’ve listed our asks and a form below that you can use to submit written comments.

Our main asks to help with your letter or testimony

Thank you to our partners at the Sierra Club for leading the initiative for this this 14-organization sign-on comment letter that you can use as inspiration for your own personal comments. The highlights of our asks are:

  • Support the Planning Commission’s recommendations
    • Require data centers be located at least 1-mile distance from a metro station entrance in areas where the county should support walkable communities, housing and jobs near transit, not data centers. Data centers have few on-site employees so having them within walking distance of transit undermines the county’s smart growth and transportation goals to populate residential, jobs, and mixed-use residential near transit.
    • Require equipment (e.g. diesel generators, HVAC) to be setback at least 500 feet from adjacent residences. Keeping this equipment located away from (not adjacent to) residential, public and commercial uses, will help reduce air, noise and aesthetic impacts to adjacent properties. We must strengthen protections for all residents, especially the most vulnerable according to the One Fairfax Policy. A disappointing example of lack of protections played out as residents of the Meadows of Chantilly Mobile Home community in the Sully district just saw a by-right data center get approved on 7/9/24, just 50 feet from their community.
    • Preserve the provision that clearly states that new rules in the ZOA would apply to submitted, but not yet approved, data center site applications. This will ensure that further discussions can be had with developers for proposals that do not meet the above criteria.

  • Establish a specific data center “use”, with the requisite “use-specific standards” designed to mitigate the full range of impacts. Doing so would be an acknowledgement of the unique set of environmental and resource challenges data centers present.

  • Ideally, require all data center proposed developments be subject to Special Exception review, as the Town of Leesburg recently did. Doing so not only allows the county the flexibility it needs to address site-specific concerns, but also the space to discuss significant issues that are not yet covered via Fairfax County’s Policy Plan or ordinances.

Temperatures this June and July in Fairfax County exceeded 100 degrees on multiple days. This not only imperils human health of all residents, especially those most vulnerable under the One Fairfax policy, but it also pressures the grid to cool data center equipment in an increasingly hot region.