The east versus west side story

It’s a battle between the east and the west over an area of land that is meant to marry the two.

The land in question is 194 acres east of Sycolin Road and north of the Dulles Greenway near Leesburg.

Presently, the plot is heavily evergreen: housing 150-foot tall electric transmission lines, an underground natural gas line, an expanse of forest comprising hardwoods and evergreens and a colony of wood turtles.

But, Stonewall Creek LLC hopes to develop the area into a 4.9 million square foot secure business park. The land could potentially be home to 3.9 million square feet of data centers as well as another 1 million square feet of non-data center uses including; office space, warehousing, health and fitness centers, a carry-out restaurant and a firearm range, among other uses.

The county’s potential direct tax revenue per year at full build out of Stonewall Creek is projected to be more than $51 million, according to Stonewall Creek’s managing partner, John Andrews.

In order to develop the land into a secure, data center business park, the land needs to be rezoned from a transitional residential area into a planned development-industrial park.

The proposal was rejected by the county’s Planning Commission May 11, and is not supported by the department of planning staff because Stonewall Creek’s proffers do not guarantee that the property would develop as a data center park.

Judi Birkitt, the project manager with the Loudoun County Department of Planning, said Stonewall Creek’s proposal is “too intense, too much square footage.”

“What the land use policies for the county say is that this transition area is supposed to be open space, a green area, a transition between western Loudoun County, which is very rural and eastern Loudoun that is very suburban,” Burkitt said.

Not only is the transition area meant to serve as a buffer between the higher-intensity uses in the east and the low density, open-space and farmland in the west, it is also meant to serve as a visual buffer, Burkitt said.

A threat to the visual buffer would be the proposed height of the buildings. Currently, the area’s zoning permits 40-foot tall buildings, but Stonewall Creek hopes to construct buildings as tall as 100 feet. Andrews said they have revised their plans to have a height maximum of 75 feet.

The county staff envisions that passersby would not be able to see any buildings from the Dulles Greenway, but 100-foot tall buildings would be hard to miss, Burkitt said.

In addition to the request to rezone the area, Stonewall Creek LLC has submitted six special exception applications including; office uses that do not meet its current criteria, an increase in the allowable floor area ratio for office and data center uses, a water storage tank, a water treatment plant, a utility substation and an indoor firearm range.

Burkitt said county staff is concerned that there would be 500,000 square feet of non-data center uses on the site – which would be three times the size of the County Government Building – before the data centers were even built.

“We’re worried that there could be a trickle in effect on the rest of the transition area,” she said.

At the Board of Supervisors public hearing June 13, Andrews said they have revised the plan so that the non-data center development will be limited to 500,000 square feet until at least 500,000 square feet of data center have been developed. He added that only 69 acres of the 194-acre plot are developable, which meets the minimum requirement of 51 percent of open space for the area.

In addition, Stonewall Creek has created a 75-foot buffer area between the business park and the surrounding community, allowed for a double row of pine trees, sewer and water lines, a security fence, paid its residential tap fees and made several cash contributions for connecting trails to the W&OD trail and for fire and rescue purposes. Stonewall Creek has also agreed to relocate any existing colonies of wood turtles.

Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) said she was concerned that promises were being made to neighboring residents “that they feel are now being reneged on.”

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) inquired what the demand has been in Loudoun for data centers relative to office, saying that the development is something the county “could really market in the sense of having a secure market.”

Speaking to the department of planning staff, Chairman Scott York (I-At Large) said, “You have issues with these few uses, even in a secure business park, because you’re concerned of the uniqueness of the project and the transition area what was created in order to reduce the overall residential impact to help with the budget of Loudoun County for future years. I find that interesting and I hope at the end of the day we can work this out.”

Ed Gorski, the Loudoun County land use officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council, called the proposal “highly speculative,” saying that it “does not offer any assurances that this site will be developed as a secure business park.”

Businessman Michael Cohen told the supervisors that he has had to travel to Pennsylvania and Ohio to work in such high-tech, secure, data centers. He said having a secure data center park would attract affluent information technology employees.

In the end, the supervisors voted to revisit the proposal in a committee of the whole meeting in July.
Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.

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