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Amazon Data Center Project Rejected In Northern Virginia As Local Pushback Intensifies

Local officials in Northern Virginia dealt a major setback to a planned Amazon Web Services data center project last week by rejecting necessary zoning changes, the latest in a swelling tide of opposition to data center development across the industry's largest market. 

Amazon hopes to build a pair of data centers on this 243-acre plot in Culpeper County, Virginia, much to the chagrin of some locals.

Culpeper County’s planning board Wednesday night voted 5-4 against Amazon’s proposal to rezone 243 acres in the town of Stevensburg for data center development, the Culpeper Star-Exponent reported.

Amazon subsidiary Marvell Developments, which proposed the zoning change, hopes to build a pair of data centers totaling more than 420K SF on the site, currently home to a horse farm and equestrian center. The vote followed a contentious hearing in which dozens of county residents spoke against data center development in the largely rural county. 

“We want to preserve our agricultural and historical resources, and the comprehensive plan does not indicate this is an area we want to turn into an industrial park,” Stevensburg District Supervisor Susan Gugina told the hearing, according to the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

Although pathways remain for Amazon to gain the approvals necessary to develop the site, the organized and vociferous opposition to AWS’ proposal reflects a growing wave of data center pushback across Northern Virginia, by far the world’s largest data center market.

Culpeper is not a data center hub like Loudoun County or other nearby counties — its four data centers, all owned by Equinix, were all built more than a decade ago. But the objections to the AWS campus echo those raised with increasing frequency by residents and public officials across the region, from environmental concerns and damage to historic sites to fears of industrializing rural communities. 

Such data center blowback has been on full display in Prince William County, where plans to rezone around 2,000 rural acres near the Manassas battlefield as a data center hub have led to protests and a substantial campaign against the so-called PW Digital Gateway. 

Proponents of the PW Gateway suffered a pair of additional setbacks last week. On Friday, the Prince William Times reported that the county’s projected tax revenue from the development would likely be around 43% less than what the developers stated. While those pushing for the PW Gateway claimed the project would yield around $700M in tax revenue, a government study put that figure closer to $400M. This revelation came on the heels of a letter from planning officials in neighboring Fairfax County outlining a series of objections to the PW Gateway, particularly potential impacts to the area’s water supply. 

“Fairfax County staff has significant concerns regarding the impacts that will accrue from adoption of this CPA (Comprehensive Plan Amendment) and encourages Prince William County to reconsider the proposal,” Fairfax officials wrote, according to the Prince William Times.

Increasing pushback to data center development hasn’t been limited to Northern Virginia. In recent months, opposition to data centers has made headlines in communities across the U.S. From two cities in Arizona to a pair of towns in Connecticut to rural communities in Oregon, local governments and community groups have sought to block or curb data center development. 

It is a new reality for data center developers, one that longtime data center public relations expert Adam Waitkunas says the industry is going to have to get used to.

“Community relations is going to have to be the new normal for the data center industry because, especially with the development of the edge, it’s going to be nonstop data center growth,” Waitkunas told Bisnow.