Fairfax County, Virginia, Launches Discussions of Data Center Changes

October 19, 2023

Like many Virginia jurisdictions, Fairfax County is reevaluating how it regulates data centers. As part of the zMOD readoption, the Board of Supervisors authorized an evaluation of Fairfax County’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance data center provisions. On Oct. 17, 2023, Fairfax County staff presented options for amending both the zoning ordinance and the comprehensive plan provisions pertaining to new data centers. These options include:

  • Location and Approval Processes
    • Consider a maximum size for by-right development in I-4 through I-6 zoning districts with a special exception (SE) for larger size or eliminate by-right options in favor of SEs for all districts regardless of size.
    • Consider setbacks, screening and performance criteria when near residential property.
  • Noise
    • Expand equipment enclosure requirement to the I-4 through I-6 zoning districts.
    • Require noise modeling for all data centers by right and rezoning (RZ)/SE and consider lower dBA standards.
    • Consider standards for emergency generator usage and testing.
  • Water Quality
    • Monitor and pretreat wastewater discharge in all watersheds.
    • In the Upper Occoquan Service Authority service area, use non-chemical/non-water-based cooling or provide pretreatment.
    • Add safety features for diesel handling and spill containment.
  • Aesthetics
    • Add standards for façade differentiation, entrance features, etc.
    • Require viewshed analyses from nearby residential property for RZ/SE.
  • Policy Plan Amendments
    • Add a new appendix to the Land Use Element of the Policy Plan for data centers (with updates to the performance criteria set forth in Appendix 12).

The Planning Commission Land Use Process Review Committee is expected to further discuss the role of data centers in Fairfax County on Oct. 26, 2023. Staff anticipates preparing a report by the end of 2023. Specific comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance amendments will be prepared in 2024.

Learn more about the data center industry capabilities of McGuireWoods LLP and McGuireWoods Consulting.