Fairfax County to Consider Zoning Changes Related to Future Data Center Development

3 min

Fairfax County is in the process of amending its Zoning Ordinance provisions pertaining to data centers in response to the increasing presence of such facilities within the region. The amendments introduce more stringent use standards to mitigate data center impacts on the surrounding communities. This has captured the attention of concerned citizens, who are urging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to approve the amendments at the upcoming public hearings scheduled for June 5, 2024, and July 16, 2024, respectively.

The amendments are intended to strengthen regulations regarding the location, size, placement, and design of data centers within the county. With regard to location, the amendments propose that data centers be permitted in the PDC and PTC planned districts only with special exception approval instead of by right. Additionally, the amendments propose that data centers not be permitted at all in the PRC district, which currently does not allow other industrial uses (alternatively, data centers could be permitted in the PRC district with special exception approval only). Data centers would continue to be permitted by right in the C-3, C-4, and I-2 to I-6 conventional districts.

Currently, data centers developed in the C-3 and C-4 districts are limited to 40,000 square feet, and those developed in the I-2 and I-3 districts are limited to 80,000 square feet. The amendments propose applying the 80,000 square foot limit to the I-4 district as well. Furthermore, the amendments provide the option of either eliminating a Zoning Ordinance provision that allows data centers developed in existing buildings to exceed the aforementioned area limits or to add a cap of 200,000 square feet to that provision.

Under the amendments, all equipment necessary for operating data centers—including cooling and ventilation equipment, power generators, and accessory electrical substations—will have to be located inside or, if not possible, be screened by a wall or barrier to reduce visual and noise impacts. To further reduce visual impacts, the amendments propose new architectural standards, such as a main entrance feature, façade changes every 150 feet, and a minimum 35% fenestration. To further reduce noise impacts, the amendments propose that two noise studies be submitted: the first, prior to site plan approval, must show that the data center will comply with the county's Noise Ordinance. The second, prior to issuance of a non-residential use permit, must show actual compliance with the Noise Ordinance. Finally, the amendments propose that data centers be set back at least 200 feet from any residential district and at least half a mile from any Metro station.

Zoning and regulatory changes in Fairfax County, along with neighboring jurisdictions, continue to evolve as the pace of new data center projects in the region continues to grow. Please contact a member of Venable's land use and zoning team with any questions related to data center development in Northern Virginia.