Planning Commission Rejects Brandy Station Data Center Rezoning | Agriculture

In a separate message to potential developers of data centers or other large industrial projects on farmland, the Culpeper County Planning Commission recently unanimously recommended denial of an 88-acre rezoning application. along Bel Pre and Stevensburg roads at Brandy Station in light industry.

The application is for the construction of a massive, speculative data center complex, a project worth more than $2 billion, according to the applicant.

Nearly two dozen neighbors, including at least five relatives, spoke out against the project at the commission’s meeting on Wednesday evening.

People have expressed concerns about water use, contamination of wells, noise, flooding, power supply, traffic, historical impacts and the overall change in the rural nature of agricultural areas in and around Brandy station.

Many said data centers and large-scale solar power plants should only be installed on industrial land with existing infrastructure.

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The proposed site is zoned commercial services (50 acres) and rural (38 acres). Landowner David Martin, president of software design firm Brandy Station Attotek, is applying for rezoning to sell his land to a data center developer.

His vision is for 765,000 square feet of floor space in three five-story buildings on the east side of a 350-acre property.

The neighbors are talking

Mark Wilkes owns the family business Honey Brook Farms on Bel Pre Road, adjacent to the data center site. Several generations of his large family live and work on the farm. They grow, raise, produce and sell a variety of food products on site and at the Farmer’s Market.

“It’s going to have a big impact on us,” Wilkes said during the public hearing. “It’s something we can’t live with.”

The father of nine, six of whom are now adults and raising their own families on their farm, said he had not met anyone at Brandy Station who wanted the data center project.

A former career realtor in Fairfax, Wilkes said he moved to Culpeper County 12 years ago to operate the farm with his family.

Son Adam Wilkes, who is part of the farm, said data centers could bring about a sea change in their community.

“Why would you take the little town of Brandy Station and turn it upside down?” he said.

Son-in-law Derrick Waller said the prospect of eminent domain looms over the process, referring to the government’s practice of seizing private land for the public good, for example, power transmission lines.

Waller said he was concerned that the view of Honey Brook Farms would be ruined by the data center buildings.

“I believe the Lord is going to take care of us,” Waller said. “He led us here.”

Resident Steve Mouring said increased tax revenue doesn’t justify setting up data centers at Brandy Station.

“It’s not a good fit,” Mouring said. “There are other places a data center can go.”

Anna Taylor said she moved to the area with her children because it was green and rural. She was heartbroken to hear about data centers.

Taylor said such a development happened where she lived and she doesn’t want it here.

“I moved here to stay,” she said, describing the data centers as big, empty structures.

PEC: Highly speculative, negative impacts

Brandy Station farmer Eugene Triplett said the project threatened the documentation of black history in the area.

The site neighbors the historic black congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church, whose pastor supports rezoning.

If approved, another historic black community will disappear from the map, Triplett said.

The relatively rural site is bordered by the railroad and within reach of a high-powered Dominion transmission line, less than a mile from US 29, just south of the historic village. The data centers would include an electrical substation, covering six to seven acres.

The Piedmont Environmental Council and the American Battlefield Trust are asking officials to wait for Martin’s proposal until the county finalizes the new version of its comprehensive land use plan. A draft of the plan has just been published.

County residents, particularly in the Stevensburg District, have been participating in public meetings about the compensation plan update for months. They spoke with a unified voice, saying they want the area to remain rural.

Even so, the county board of supervisors has already approved a large solar plant and two Amazon data centers in Stevensburg, rezoning a horse farm for the latter industrial use. Construction is getting ready on these projects.

PEC said the Brandy Station data center proposal is highly speculative and will likely negatively impact the community and the new Culpeper Battlefields State Park.

The development will require the construction of several kilometers of high-voltage transmission lines on private land, the conservation group said.

Hundreds of people submitted a form letter to the county opposing the project.

Economic impact

After a one-month delay at the request of the applicant, its revised application adds more control along the Bel Pre and Stevensburg roads, as well as an economic impact analysis.

The financial analysis speaks well for demand, planning director Sam McLearen said Wednesday.

Prepared by Magnum Economics of Glen Allen, the report estimates the economic and fiscal contributions of the Brandy Station project, weighing the tax incentives the county will receive for having the project in a technology zone.

The total capital investment in the data center campus is estimated at $2.7 billion, according to the report, with a five-year construction impact.

Development of each of the data centers would qualify under the Culpeper County Tech Zone Incentive for an 80% rebate of the first $1.25 million in taxes paid for the first five years of operation.

Even with the incentives, the data center campus development would provide Culpeper County with $8.66 million in year one and grow to a stable net income of $32.46 million in year 11, according to the prepared analysis. for the candidate.

Over the five-year construction period, the project is expected to create 2,770 jobs, $258 million in wages and benefits, and $540 million in economic output for Culpeper County, according to the report.

Once the three data centers are open, they will employ about 150 people, according to the analysis, for $24 million in salaries and benefits and $122 million in economic output.

The applicant presents his file

Culpeper attorney Butch Davies, representing Martin, said a data center has less of an impact than the site’s current business services zoning. The project responds to a designation created in the overall plan 20 years ago – a technology zone, the lawyer said.

Martin did most of the talking at last week’s meeting, presenting his case to the commission.

Four layers of screening will mitigate the impact of site and sound on Bel Pre Road, he said of measures to make the project more palatable.

Technology Opportunity Zones in Culpeper comprise a small portion of county land and are used to attract business so Culpeper can grow in a balanced way, Martin said.

“This is the area that the county thinks we should develop in the future,” he said.

Martin presented 20 years of comprehensive future land use plans showing the parcel as an area for growth.

At one point he had an approved plan for a 10,000 square foot office park on his property. That didn’t materialize due to the sensitive nature of his client, the federal government, Martin said.

“We sat on this for 15 years, waiting for what we thought was a good project for us and the county. We think a data center is,” he said.

It’s not good farmland, Martin added, saying he hasn’t been able to produce corn or hay. The good agricultural land is in the floodplain there, he said, noting that it will remain undeveloped.

A successful data center project requires county approval and a clear path to power. Martin claimed that the latter was in place.

Dominion will seek permission to extend a transmission line to the site from the State Corporation Commission once the project has received all of its approvals.

Martin is working on land acquisition, saying the extension would impact five or six properties, including a lifelong resident of the area.

Planners recommend denial

Finishing his presentation, Martin answered a myriad of questions from the panel. Vice President Cindy Thornhill wanted to see a conceptual data center plan.

“For us to approve some of these things, I want to see a visual,” she said.

Water control at the site is also a big issue, Thornhill said.

“Everyone in this room wants to know where all that water is going, and so do I, if I lived there,” she said.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality must review and approve all stormwater management plans at the site. The data centers would be on a private well and septic tank and use 2,000 gallons of water per day, Martin said.

A 5,000-gallon water tank will be built next to each data center, which will be air-cooled, he said.

Planning Commissioner Keith Price said he recently visited a neighborhood next to a data center in Manassas on his way home from work. He questioned the noise impact of the proposal, saying such a project at Brandy Station would introduce significant nuisance and ruin the neighborhood.

Commission Chairman Sanford Reaves initially voted against rejecting Martin’s plan, but changed his vote at the end of the meeting, just before midnight.

In his previous comments, he said he tried to look at both sides, noting that traffic access to the site, on current roads, was a major concern.

Reaves said he was also concerned about landlord rights. The Culpeper native said the county needs to generate tax revenue other than residential real estate.

Commissioner Katie Reames filed the motion for denial, saying the request would negatively impact the public health, safety and welfare of residents.

The case is now before the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors.

The applicant has requested that the review be postponed until the November 1 council meeting, at which time there will be a public hearing.

Ramon J. Espinoza