back to article Virginians sue to block rural Amazon datacenter

Residents in rural Culpeper County, Virginia, aren't letting Amazon build a datacenter without a fight, so they've sued the county to stop the project.  Culpeper County's Board of Supervisors voted 4-3 in early April to rezone 230 acres of a 243-acre equestrian center and working horse farm to light industrial use so that AWS …

  1. Anonymous Coward

    It looks there's a lack of rusting, decaying building in USA to be demolished and the area redeveloped? But that costs more building than taking a clear area of land... until it too becomes another rusting, decaying building....

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    That's just what we need in the middle of this beautiful open rolling countryside... an ugly data center.

    I'll bet datacenters can be a big deal economically... right into the county supervisors' back pockets.

    1. jeff_w87

      My take exactly

      I'm sure some money or future favors promised changed hands before that vote.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My take exactly

        You have no idea (or maybe you do!) just how corrupt local politics can be in parts of the US.

        I - posting anon for obv reasons - have been, with my neighbors, battling a "marijuana-processing" plant nearby in our residential neighborhood. It ran illegally for years, then when pot was legalized here the owners decided to "go legit". Their change-of-use application paperwork was a joke - photos that bore no relation to the actual buildings, utter lies about their water-use requirements, etc. Neighbors were warned by senior State politicians - off the record of course - not to kick up too much of a fuss or expect "retribution" from "the cartels". The person who lived next door to this facility battled them for years and eventually committed suicide in despair.

        Anyway, after multiple public meetings where 99% of the speakers were against the facility, including professional geologists and hydrologists who presented reams of evidence that it was utterly unsuitable for the location, it got nodded through by the county planning commissioners.

        ...One of whom posted on her personal blog a few days later words to the effect of "So glad we have a processing plant locally now and I don't have to transport my own crop all the way to the next town!!"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: My take exactly

          Cool story bro!

    2. Kane

      "I'll bet datacenters can be a big deal economically... right into the county supervisors' back pockets."

      Brown envelopes, everywhere

      1. chuckamok

        Brown envelopes all the way down...

  3. whoseyourdaddy

    Visited a condo under construction in southern CA.

    The open phase of condo units overlooked a gigantic A/C condenser unit for an office complex that ran 24/7/365.

    I'd be furious too.

  4. Jim Mitchell

    Calling 230 acres a "spot" seems rather disingenuous. For our European audience, that is almost a square that is 1 km per side.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      But with the land area of the USA, it's barely a spot, more of a pimple :-)

      1. Jim Mitchell

        Its two Vatican Cities, what does that make the pope?

        1. Winkypop Silver badge

          Re: what does that make the pope?


          1. David 132 Silver badge

            Re: what does that make the pope?

            ...someone who poops in the woods? Or am I getting my rhetorical questions mixed?

    2. Dinanziame Silver badge

      That might actually be a justification for the rezoning — it's unlikely the region already has an industrial zone of that size. It's probably a very significant increase of industrial zoning in the county, which is almost entirely farmland. It's not entirely unreasonable to do that if demand for industrial zoning increases; now if it has to be in that particular place, that's another question.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Culpeper's Tech Zones

        Culpeper has 5 tech zones, all of which exceed the size of the farmland parcel that they've tried to rezone. The future land use maps for this area are designated Agricultural. The closest industrial parcel with more than 1-acre of land is 6 miles away. Many farms in this district area are about the same size - 200 acres - but the data center is only 10 acres of the 230 acres being rezoned. And the electrical substation is 12 acres - greater than the footprint of the data center buildings. The plan for the substation and the transmission towers haven't even been submitted yet so the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors approved something that they have ZERO detail on.

        There are existing data centers in the county in the tech zones. The difference between this land and the industrial-zoned land in the tech zones is the price. Amazon paid almost $1M per acre for their site in Warrenton and it was only 40 acres. Farmland in Culpeper is $10 - $12k per acre. Amazon doesn't need 200+ acres for their data center...unless they want to build a whole campus. Once the land is rezoned, the County won't be able to stop them from building whatever they want.

        This is a rural residential area and historically sensitive. The closest resident lives right next to site and their 5-acre parcel would be surrounded on 3 sides by this hideous monstrosity which is completely out-of-character to the rural community. This resident bought their property 2 years ago believing they were investing in a little farm in a rural area. The County now wants to put an industrial building next to them. It is NOT right.

  5. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    While you're at it

    Might as well use the megawatts of waste heat to build a giant tropical water amusement park next door. (I think you can guess the name) At this point I think we can say that zoning continuity isn't impeding any plans.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: While you're at it

      Maybe DCs should be colocated with offshore wind farms. Plenty of cooling and electricity supply close to hand.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: While you're at it

        It's much like the Oregon announcement. Amazon wants cheap, reliable power, so builds DC's in coal states. And a farm and some lobbying to rezone it is cheaper than buying a chunk of existing industrially zoned land.

        Curious if Greenwashing is a solution for the neighbours campaigning against the development. Amazon portrays itself as being Green and environmentally friendly, yet opts to use 'dirty' coal power. So roping in Virginia's Greens to campaign against the development on environmental grounds might be a way to amplify the effect.

        Or as you say, it would be amusing if DCs ended up having to be exclusively powered by wind & solar. It'll be find, DC's will have ample power, and can even export any surplus to the surrounding community.

  6. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    Want to know why

    they rezoned farnland instead of building in an industrial zone? They probably paid 3000 an acre for the place. In an industrial zone, land would go for 100,000 to 1MM an acre, and that's if that much land was available. Running a data center's worth of power into an existing industrial area, when it's already full of huge power users, is likely also a "add a few more zeroes to the end" event. Probably costs a lot less to run new wire in, forcing the other property owners to give a right-of-way via legal threats if they don't sign. A good, well paid lawyer with a moneybags client can quickly entangle someone into an expensive mess they can't afford to defend against even if they have no basis for it.

  7. sreynolds

    Are they crowdfunding?

    If they are I might support.

  8. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    They'd better fight it tooth and nail. We are having a similar problem where I live. Most of the county used to be idyllic countryside - small farms, Gentleman farms, forests, housing developments. Then the county rezoned some farmland to allow Toyo Tires to build an enormous manufacturing facility out in the midst of the greenery. "Jobs" they said, even though we're only a 30-minute drive from the job utopia of Atlanta. The locals sued to stop it, and lost every time for 4 or 5 years. Fast-forward 6 or 7 years and now the county government seems mesmerized at the possibility of turning every square inch of farmland into commercial/industrial use, and they can do so at a frightening pace. The Good Ole Boy network at its finest, and an apathetic electorate that keeps electing them. Lots of greasy palms around here. But I think the real root of the problem is that as the old Farmers and landowners died, their children didn't want to farm and instead saw the land as a quick way to make big $$$, although the large corporate buyers see it as small $$$.

    So yeah, these Virginians better fight like hell if they enjoy what they've got, but be prepared to lose because "jobs".

    1. Auntie Dix

      The B.O. of the South's "Good Ole Boys"

      "The Good Ole Boy network at its finest, and an apathetic electorate that keeps electing them. Lots of greasy palms around here."

      You hit the nail on the head.

      Regarding Atlanta, just north of it, Cobb County's scumbag pols — via a deliberately rushed, no-time-for-discussion decision — diverted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund for m-/b-illionaires an unneeded baseball stadium shoehorned into an extant major-interchange choke point (I-285W/I-75N). The lead scumbag retired shortly thereafter.

      Taxpayers are now about to be maneuvered into funding additions to this theme park for the duh-sports crowd.

      The frosting on this turd: The stadium is not in Atlanta, but the m-/b-illionaires demand the name.

      The world should ignore the retained appellation and call the overpaid, low-IQ jocks The Atlanta Cobb Braves.

      1. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        Re: The B.O. of the South's "Good Ole Boys"

        Yeah, I never understood why they moved the Braves up to 285. I mean, Turner field was only 20 years old, nothing wrong with it, and they had put in nice Interstate exits for it to avoid the scary drives the old Fulton County Stadium used to require.

        I'm up in Bartow county. The county government seems intent on turning this place into a vast industrial wasteland of warehouses and factories. Bleh. It used to be a good place to live, but now, I can't wait to get out. 2 more years, then heading to Florida for pre-retirement.

    2. Frubered

      I grew up in Culpeper and miss the ruralness of the area and the small town vibe which seems to be disappearing in many places. Every time I visit I see more growth and change in and around the town (not necessarily bad). I lived in the next county up during the 90s and Disney tried to build a theme park in a small bump in the road place off Interstate 66 and the locals all banded together to form a F*ck The Mouse (FTM) campaign to fight Disney - and they won (Loudoun and Fauquier are very rich areas, all kinds of old and new money families reside/stay there). I hope people from my hometown can figure out a way to do that to Amazon and run them out. I worked in Reston before moving out to the Eastern Shore of MD 4 years ago and saw all the datacenters being built and really just wonder how that will all work out in 10-20 years... I don't miss that stuff (traffic, urban sprawl of faceless repeating chain retailers) at all.

    3. Frubered

      After Walmart came to Culpeper, all the little shops, like the hardware stores that had been open for 60-70 years in the downtown closed and it went down hill for 15 years until people in the town grew more and the town worked on revitalizing the old town. It was sad to see that change occur. You could no longer find things locally because Walmart had something cheaper (not necessarily a very good product) and the stores couldn't fight the beast.

      Culpeper might be getting some of it's power from the nuclear reactor down in Louisa county at Lake Anna if memory serves. I don't remember much in the way of local power generation, but things may have changed since with all the natural gas stations popping up to prop up the grid.

      1. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        Same here in North Georgia - once Walmart (and Super Walmart) became ubiquitous in the mid-90's, the local Mom-n-Pop hardware stores had trouble competing. Now we're left with the big-box stores like Lowes and Home Depot, and Ace Hardware (which, judging by its operating hours, must be think that it is actually a bank, not a hardware store, because it certainly keeps banker's hours).

        And to add insult to injury, by the mid-2000's, Walmart had stopped carrying much of the "hardware" it had in decades past, so we were left in the lurch. I clearly remember buying shock absorbers at Walmart in 1987, but not anymore.

        But Walmart was just the tip of the iceburg. Look at the proliferation of Advance Auto, AutoZone, O'Reilly, etc, Those are still chains, just an order of magnitude smaller than Walmart. And let's not forget Amazon's rise over the past 10+ years. Truth is, the Mom-n-Pop stores were doomed one way or another unless they could find some niche market to fill.

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  10. Snake Silver badge

    Obvious is obvious when it's obvious

    "We've asked but have never gotten a good answer as to why they won't build on existing industrial land in the tech zones,"

    Because the locality is getting a monetary kickback? And your zoning board went along with the graft?

    Is admitting that to yourselves really all that hard?

  11. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

    Speaking to the Culpeper Star-Exponent

    Remind me what the Star-Exponent operator does again?

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