Warren County Supervisors Delay Data Center Vote | Every day

Warren County supervisors agreed on Tuesday to take more time to decide whether they want to open the doors to data centers.

Supervisory board members voted 4-0 at a special meeting in favor of a motion to defer action on proposed zoning ordinance changes that, if approved, would allow use data centers in Warren County. President Cheryl L. Cullers, Vice President Delores R. Oates, and Supervisors Jerome K. “Jay” Butler and Walter J. “Walt” Mabe voted in favor of the motion. Supervisor Vicky L. Cook attended the meeting electronically but was unable to participate.

The county’s zoning ordinance does not include data centers as a land use. Proposed zoning ordinance amendments would add light industry as a zoning district and add data centers as a permitted use by right, without the need for a conditional use permit, in the new existing light industrial and industrial district.

Staff members proposed the changes as an update to the zoning ordinance to allow the county to remain economically competitive and proactive. Staff and the Planning Commission, during their work updating the county’s overall plan, talked about data centers although the topic has been a point of discussion for years.

Several people who spoke at the public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance changes expressed concerns about the impact the data centers could have on the county.

Oates offered to postpone action until council can talk more about the proposed zoning changes.

“It takes weeks of research to come to a really good conclusion and I would ask, you know, are data centers right for Warren County – that’s a question in my head,” Oates said. “So I think, given all the information, we should postpone (the proposal) until we can have a working session and then we can reschedule a public hearing depending on what we decide at that working session.”

Front Royal resident John Lundburg spoke at the public hearing on the zoning ordinance changes. Lundburg has asked supervisors to postpone voting on the proposed changes until the Front Royal board and city council can hold a press conference on the impact data centers would have on the mode of life and future development.

“Residents of Northern Virginia, particularly in Loudoun and Prince William counties, where more than 180 of these monstrosities have been built in the past 15 years, say these buildings are big and ugly, noisy, use too much water and electricity, increase utility rates, cause electrical brownouts, employ very few people once the building is built, and could become a dinosaur in the near future as technology improves” , said Lundburg. “On that last point, I’d like to pose a question to the members of the Board of Supervisors tonight… What is the Warren County Board of Supervisors going to do in 10 years when these 100 yards long, three – and four-story buildings up north of Happy Creek Road or maybe on Mary Shady’s Lane are empty because technology has made dinosaurs out of them?” Are you going to tear down the buildings? Who’s going to pay the price?

Lundburg also told supervisors that if they approved the zoning ordinance change, they would not permit data centers as a right use.

Warren County resident Vincent Maresca also voiced his opposition to the proposed change to the zoning ordinance for data centers. He echoed Lundburg’s concerns about data center water and electricity use, and also asked supervisors to postpone the vote.

Maresca cited a Northern Virginia Technology Council report that found data centers provide more temporary construction jobs than permanent ones. Maresca said the study showed that a data center in Boydton, a town in rural Mecklenburg County, hired 25 local residents. Maresca added that Warren County is already in a good economic position with an unemployment rate below the national rate, more than 19,200 community jobs and its tourism industry.

Jane Elliot asked supervisors if they knew that a typical data center uses 1.5 million gallons of water per day. Areas around data centers are experiencing power outages and brownouts, and nearby residents are complaining that power outages are causing electrical appliances to short out and fail, Elliot said.

The Planning Commission recommended that the supervisors approve the proposal.

Supervisors also:

• Amended the current budget ending July 31, 2023 to reflect the addition of $16.4 million in the carry forward program from the previous spending plan and to allocate additional funds. No one spoke at the public hearing on this subject. The decision also modifies the appropriation resolution to reflect the current budget increase. The council had to hold the hearing because the budget changes exceed 1% of the total expenses of the current budget. The carry-forward block includes $3.3 million in incremental revenue over expenses in the general fund budget category and a balance of $16.7 million in the special projects fund.

• Approval of a conditional use permit for Gillian Greenfield and Richard Butcher to operate a short-term tourist rental at 1164 Riverview Shores Drive. No one spoke at the public hearing on the application.

• Denied an application by Elizabeth A. Saman for a conditional use permit to operate a short-term tourist rental at 431 Cindys Way because the property does not meet the 100-foot setback requirement from a dwelling to the other. Saman had requested a waiver of the recoil requirement. Saman explained that she wanted to rent the property on a short-term basis, less than 30 days, because she is forced to stay in Northern Virginia to care for a seriously ill family member. A handful of speakers at the public hearing cited security concerns in opposing the request. A speaker criticized Saman for not communicating with neighbors and, dismissing the claimant’s reason for renting the property, said everyone had sick family members. Saman refuted claims that she had not communicated with her neighbors, whom she criticized as being hostile.

• Approved Stacy L Lockhart’s application for a conditional use permit for private non-commercial camping on property off Harris Drive. No one spoke at the public hearing.

• Approved separate applications by Vesta Property Management for conditional use permits to operate short-term tourist rentals at 194 Venus Branch Road, owned by Dorotea Rutherford, and 86 McCoys Ford Road, owned by Chad and Donna Anthony. Chloe Phillips, director of property management for Vesta, said landlords are using their properties. No one spoke at the hearings for each request.

• Filing of Jeffrey Steven Taylor’s application for a conditional use permit for private non-commercial camping on property on Howellsville Road. After hearing complaints from neighbors about the condition of the property, the Planning Commission recommended that the permit be denied. Taylor told supervisors he bought the property to use as a “getaway.” Taylor said he removed an RV from the property and explained that the vehicle sitting at the site is working but his inspection has expired and he cannot legally drive in Virginia. Taylor told supervisors he would like to develop the property in the future. Two intervenors at the public hearing raised concerns with supervisors about the application. Oates said more information is needed on the request.

• Voted 2-2 on a motion to approve an application by Jaden and Tori Walter for a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 80 River Oak Drive. Mabe and Oates supported the permit. Butler and Cullers opposed the request. The motion failed due to a tie vote. Tori Walter, a Washington state resident, said in the open court, in response to a question from Cullers, that she and Jaden Walter had purchased the property as an investment, but also planned to use the property. Cullers said she voted no because she felt an applicant should have a personal “by-in” and not just use the property as an investment.

Ramon J. Espinoza