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Hanover supervisors postpone data center vote

Hugh Kenny
Piedmont Environmental Council
Tractor trailer-size generators are visible next to a data center along the W&OD Trail in Loudoun County. The region now has the largest concentration of data centers in the country. Hanover County is now considering locating a data center project in the Beaverdam District.

Residents expressed concerns over development, but acknowledged a need for additional tax revenue.

The Hanover County Board of Supervisors is considering a deal to bring a data center park to its semi-rural landscape. The project proposal identifies over 1,200 acres north of Ashland for potential economic development, though residents have mixed opinions on the plan.

During the Feb. 28 board meeting, county officials heard from the Colorado-based company Tract, as well as a number of residents who opposed the development.

Crystal Teets, of the Beaverdam District — where the project would be located — was one of several constituents who urged the board to deny the project proposal. Teets and others expressed concerns over the burden multiple data centers would bring to the county’s environment, rural character and public utilities.

“Please listen to your constituents,” Teets told the board. “I understand that you're in situations and you're trying to get revenue for the county, but there are other things … there are things that would better suit Hanover County to help keep Hanover rural.”

Plans submitted by Tract — a land acquisitions company specializing in data center developments — encompass several properties along the south side of Hickory Hill Road just east of Interstate 95.

Timmons Group
The conceptual plan developed by Tract and the Timmons Group — a Richmond-based design firm — shows revisions to the site’s natural buffers and access roads after multiple community development meetings were held.

County officials identified these several parcels as early as 2007 as an ideal location for economic growth or a job center. The Beaverdam District land is currently zoned for agricultural use and would be rezoned to light industrial as part of the proposal. The site is also located in the county’s suburban service area, which is reserved for high-density developments and economic growth.

Hanover's recently adopted comprehensive plan noted that data centers would be a suitable industry for the area.

Virginia has emerged as the data center capital of the country. And Andrew Pompei, Hanover’s deputy planning director, said the county has worked for multiple years to prepare for a large-scale development.

“This will be the first data center development of its scale. There is one existing data center in the Atlee area, but this would be the first hyperscale data center complex in the county,” Pompei said. “We’ve always thought developers would be interested in adding a data center here, and this applicant in this particular case has been willing to work with the community and other stakeholders to try to address potential impacts through proper conditions.”

PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that oversees 13 states and Washington, D.C., anticipates peak energy consumption doubling in Virginia by 2040.

Public engagement

Pompei said prior to the meeting, the county worked closely with developers and residents to ensure the proposed development won’t detract from Hanover’s rural characteristics. Through multiple public engagement meetings, the development plan has changed to address multiple concerns.

The developers have agreed to a number of design standards and put forward several self-funded incentives including: traffic and sound impact studies; wetland and resource protection areas; cultural resource surveys; and power and transmission studies.

Tract has also offered a $3.4-million cash contribution to the county to provide improvements along Hickory Hill Road. The project’s projected by Tract to create hundreds of jobs and bring billions in tax revenue to Hanover during the next 20 years.

Mechanicsville resident Paul Teel supports the project. He said it will bring a much-needed balance between county tax revenue and what individual households contribute.

“My train of thought here is, this is a benefit to take the pressure off of residences for taxes,” Teel told the board. “Think of the burden on our county for schools and taxes and stuff. … We need a balance, and hopefully, you all will see that benefit here.”

After public comment, Hanover supervisors acknowledged residents' concerns merit additional consideration.

Supervisor Jeff Stoneman thanked his constituents for coming forward to express their thoughts.

“As the supervisor of Beaverdam, I think it's my job to make sure citizens feel heard. … [B]ut also I think that we have to realize when a developer has done a good job,” Stoneman said. “For me, as a new supervisor here, I just want to make sure that we've done the best that we can do.”

For that reason, Stoneman made a recommendation to defer the public hearing for 30 days, moving it to the board’s March 27 meeting. He said it should give the project applicants additional time to address the concerns brought up during February’s hearing.

The board approved Stoneman’s request on a 5-2 vote. Supervisors Sean Davis, of the Henry District, and Faye Prichard, of the Ashland District, cast the opposing votes.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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