Loudoun Co. considers preventing data centers along Va. State Route 7

Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors is considering zoning regulation changes that would prohibit building data centers along Virginia Route 7, in the county known as the internet capital of the world.

An estimated 70% of internet traffic travels through what the county has dubbed Data Center Alley, in Ashburn, which is considered part of the Dulles Technology Corridor.

However, the supervisors are looking at ways to prevent developers from building data centers in the stretch of Route 7, located east of Leesburg, and west of Virginia Route 28.

“There’s G.W. [the George Washington University Virginia Science and Technology Campus], One Loudoun, Topgolf, but there’s also a lot of land, to be quite frank,” said Supervisor Juli Briskman, of the Algonkian District. “The way it’s zoned right now, folks could build data centers.”

Much of the undeveloped land is owned by data companies that could legally be developed, without a way to challenge the development, “aside from begging developers not to build data centers,” Briskman told WTOP.

As part of its ongoing Zoning Ordinance Rewrite, the supervisors are weighing a Route 7 Data Center overlay, which would preclude building data centers in that stretch.

The county’s long-term vision for the Route 7 corridor is for suburban mixed-use development, which could include single-family home communities, apartments and condominiums, and small businesses.

Briskman would like to see what are called  “flex-use industrial” buildings, which are designed to be easily adapted to small businesses that need warehouse and office space.

“You might see a startup business, small manufacturing, a brewery, a bakery,” Briskman said.

As part of her opposition to building data centers along Route 7, Briskman said the corridor is not equipped with the electricity and water infrastructure to support them.

“We would have power lines, industrial, huge power lines, running up and down Route 7,” Briskman said.

The data industry has played a large part in the growth of Loudoun County, and its wealth of high-paying jobs.

“We love our data center community. They have been so beneficial to our county,” said Briskman. “But, we have to have a more diverse revenue stream.”

Briskman points the recent chip shortage and its effect on technology: “Data centers have proven to be an unstable revenue source,” in terms of the county’s ability to tax revenue.

Future housing included in suburban mixed-use development would be more a financially responsible source of revenue, she said.

“Real estate taxes should make up 51.5% or more of your revenue, in any jurisdiction,” said Briskman. “We can’t lessen that dependence on data center revenue, if we keep building data centers.”

The board is expected to consider the zoning regulation changes later this month.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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