Two Northern Virginia Counties Are Tightening Their Data Center Regulations

3 min

Fauquier County and Fairfax County are tightening zoning regulations for data center developments.

Fauquier County's Enhanced Review for Large-Scale Buildings in the Vint Hill Area

In March, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors approved zoning changes for the Vint Hill area's Planned Commercial Industrial Development District (PCID). Before the zoning changes, large-scale buildings could be constructed by right in the PCID without direct approval from the board. Now, large-scale buildings, such as data centers, will require a special exception approval from the board.

The amended zoning ordinance requires board approval for any building (or group of buildings serving the same enterprise) larger than 50,000 square feet. Because most data centers exceed 50,000 square feet, they will need to apply for and receive a special exception approval from the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors. The board would review applications and could reject a project if it receives significant community pushback during the public comment period.

The amended zoning ordinance, however, does exempt currently approved data center projects.

Fairfax County to Propose Tighter Zoning Regulations for Data Centers

Fairfax County is drafting stricter zoning regulations to enhance the county's oversight of data center projects. The proposed changes are likely to be heard by the Fairfax County Planning Commission on June 5, 2024 and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on July 16, 2024.

In March, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff to "prepare a Zoning Ordinance amendment to strengthen the current provisions for data centers." A subsequent staff report and presentation suggest at least six likely changes to data center regulations:

  • Requiring data center developments to receive a special exception in certain Commercial and Industrial Districts where current zoning regulations allow data centers by right
  • Restricting the height, size, and location of data centers within Industrial Districts and setting minimum distances for buildings and generators from residential zones
  • Requiring data center developers to submit an assessment of "future energy needs" for any special exception application
  • Encouraging energy-efficient practices such as LEED-Data Center Silver certification, on-site solar panels, and investment in off-site renewable energy to mitigate the data center's energy consumption and carbon footprint
  • Requiring noise mitigation equipment and noise studies

Staff also recommended that Fairfax County coordinate with utility providers, including the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative and Dominion Energy, to evaluate how future development might affect energy demand for data centers and the county as a whole.

Fairfax County Planning Director Tracy Strunk said there will be several meetings for community feedback on the data center zoning recommendations, and staff will engage with local land-use committees, developers, and other stakeholders for input.

If you'd like to talk about how the amended Vint Hill PCID zoning ordinance or upcoming changes to Fairfax County's data center zoning regulations might affect your organization, contact Ked Whitmore, Noah Klein, Jon Zator, or any of the attorneys in Venable's Land Use and Zoning Practice Group.