How Zoning Changes Will Impact Data Centers & the Energy Market 

The data center permitting and entitlement review process might be getting more difficult in Northern Virginia. Home to nearly 300 data centers, Northern Virginia has become known as “Data Center Alley.” Scattered across Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William counties, these data centers handle more than a third of the world’s online traffic. And the demand for more data centers is rising, fueled by AI-related needs, growing industrial and manufacturing demand, general electrification, and buildout of EV charging infrastructure.

In the face of this growing demand, Loudoun County lawmakers recommended a new zoning permission bill in February 2024 that would remove the current by-right use permission in all zones and require all data center developers to apply for approval. Last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors joined Loudoun County in this pushback by directing Department of Planning and Development staff to update the county zoning ordinance with additional regulatory guidance for data center development. These updates will most likely modify the zoning regulations and create new special exception approval for all data centers.

We expect that the proposed changes will add to the entitlement process for data center approval.  Cozen O’Connor’s Virginia zoning team, led by Evan Pritchard, recently obtained an 8-1 approval to re-zone a 12-acre parcel in Fairfax County, with an eye toward a 402,000 square foot, 75-megawatt data center. Twenty-three people appeared at a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors to oppose the application. But as one of the District Supervisors noted following the hearing, “this applicant has addressed [the concerns raised] by submitting a more robust proffer package than any data center applicant has previously provided in this county.”

Cozen O’Connor will alert clients and post about the Fairfax draft zoning amendment text, which is expected to be presented to the Planning Commission in June 2024 and to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing in July 2024.

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Real Estate, Zoning & Land Use

Cozen O’Connor has represented residential, commercial, retail, and industrial builders in the development and redevelopment of building lots and millions of square feet of real estate. Our team handles every aspect of the zoning, land use, and development approvals process, from obtaining building permits and variances to negotiating stormwater management and traffic plans.

Head of the DC Zoning Group & Blog Editor