Citizen Email: May 17 BOCS Meeting – Approve ZTA A

(Readers:  Don’t lose your opportunity to send your own email to the Supervisors:  Vote Yes ZTA A)


Last August, you unanimously declared your intent to “initiate zoning text amendments to incorporate appropriate zoning requirements for Data Centers.” Your rationale was sound – data centers are critical, infrastructure-intensive nodes in the information economy, which have both direct and indirect impacts on other properties. Your timeframe was “immediately,” and while May 17 may seem less than immediate, I know substantive work over the last nine months makes the wait worthwhile (and kudos to Chris Price for his efforts).

PWC County Planning commissioners unanimously supported Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) Alternative A – which includes an update for substations – in their April 20 meeting, and with good reason: ZTA A is pro-business, pro-property, and reduces the likelihood of another debacle like the Dominion Power / Amazon extension cord battle raging in Haymarket.

Please do the same. Approve ZTA A.

I am unabashedly pro-business and pro-technology in how I work, live, and vote. I work for a small tech innovator, after a decade+ in big tech consulting, and I am a taxpayer who wants to see our economic foundation evolve away from taxing residential property. Data centers help (the Iron Mountain development in Manassas is a huge win for the county). Now, critics will say – somewhat mechanically – that regulation kills innovation, and if it adds unnecessary complexity or delay, I agree. But when regulation does what the word means – makes regular – it allows all parties to understand a process before it starts, with confidence about timeline, uncertainties, and outcomes. Data centers need power, and a lot of it. I submit to you that we will attract more data centers if we are smart and consistent about where we put them and how we serve them. Discussions around placement and infrastructure will come up, always – they did with Iron Mountain. The choice is between making those discussions transparent and expected versus ad hoc and explosive as the implications of poor planning get dragged into the light of day. ZTA A helps make that choice correctly.

I am pro-property, not only because I want to see it protected more and taxed less, but because it forms the basis for economic interaction. When I purchased my home in Prince William County, I accepted that my ownership and usage has limits, some part of community covenants, others part of statues or ordinances. Just because my property is mine does not mean I can use it in a way that hurts others. Data centers owners, though larger in scale and scope of concerns, are similar. I also happen to be an HOA president, so I know complex situations arise and require drawing fine lines. I submit to you that an owner who uses their property in a way that threatens or outright harms another person’s property is not only a bad neighbor, they are a hypocrite. That’s not a fine line, it is bright – or at least it should be, and ZTA A helps make it so.

Finally, like you, I would rather avoid trainwrecks such as the one we face in the Haymarket-Gainesville area. One way to resolve the conflict is to make the county hostile to data center investment. This is, in a word, stupid. Another way is to try and make the process opaque and obscure from a public standpoint. This is, in five words, stupid, destructive, unnecessary, evil and illegal.

Uncertainty also fails, as all parties are finding out up here. Amazon has been outed as the customer but is dodging calls and trying to stay at arms length while it waits for its power. Dominion is spending time and money on legal battles while burning political capital (which costs more money) and generally making themselves distrusted. Local residents are exhausted from years of fighting and worrying about what’s going to happen to their property values. Ask any real estate agent about home sales generally and in the path of proposed powerline specifically. Even county officials are fretting about what might get disclosed around pre-certification and trips to Seattle.

Net: everyone is losing in this fight, but we keep fighting to stave off an even greater loss. Economists call this a negative sum game, we’re all worse off. Contrast that with the Iron Mountain data center facility targeted for the west side of Manassas. It has the right zoning, the right infrastructure in abundant fiber and power to be provided underground (yes, underground) from a nearby substation, and is on track for a 2017 launch. According to Dominion Power, the Haymarket substation won’t be up and running until 2018, pending necessary regulatory approvals. The right way is to make the process clear, put things where they should be and where they can be served best. ZTA A serves that end.

You know the pro-business, pro-property, and frankly pro-sanity thing to do here. Approve ZTA A.

Tadd Wilson

Haymarket, VA