Frederick County Council to vote on bill to establish where data centers could be allowed, and under what criteria

·3 min read

Mar. 15—Frederick County planners would have more control over where companies could build data centers and what the facilities would look like under a bill the County Council is scheduled to vote on Tuesday.

If the bill passes, it would add data centers — high-security warehouses that organizations and companies use to store and process massive amounts of data — to a zoning class that currently allows for manufacturing facilities and warehouses.

Data centers would only be permitted on land that is zoned for them.

"We don't want Frederick County to look like Loudoun County, in terms of data centers," said Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D), who is sponsoring the bill on behalf of County Executive Jan Gardner (D).

Loudoun County, Virginia, is home to roughly 70 data center facilities from Amazon Web Services alone and is expecting more than $500 million in tax revenue from data centers next year, Loudoun County Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer previously told the News-Post.

Gardner said the bill was a response to Texas-based Quantum Loophole announcing plans last June to develop a campus near Adamstown for companies to build data centers on. A spokesperson for Quantum Loophole did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

It's not yet clear how many data centers will be built on the property, though the county executive's hope is to limit disruptions to nearby communities.

Under the bill, data center facilities must be built on at least 80,000 square feet of property and be set back at least 50 feet from the property line in all directions.

Moreover, data center facilities cannot be taller than 60 feet, and if a company installs security fencing, vegetation must keep the fence from public view.

"As this world-class data center campus develops, it is our collective goal to ensure that this development is done well and is compatible with the surrounding community," Gardner said in an email.

The bill outlines noise standards to limit the impact to nearby properties, given how noise can be a concern in jurisdictions that allow data centers. The facilities would need to maintain a sound level from the property limits no higher than 70 decibels, which is softer than a vacuum cleaner but louder than a conversation or business office.

A new five-member architectural review committee consisting of architects, industrial specialists and those with other related experiences would be responsible for reviewing applications from companies seeking to establish data centers.

"If data centers are going to come in any way, shape or form," Keegan-Ayer said, "let's make sure we control where they go and what they look like."

Frederick County is currently home to data center facilities for the Social Security Administration and Fannie Mae mortgage loan company, though the county has received other interest too.

A $30 billion proposal for Amazon to build data centers in at least three communities in the county fell through last year, in part because Amazon and county government couldn't reach an agreement on the project's timeline.

Amazon's proposal came at a time when the county didn't have a specific zoning designation to outline which land would be available for data centers.

If the bill passes, the county's Planning Commission would be able to point to areas on which companies could develop data centers, Keegan-Ayer said.

Though the County Council is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday, the body's decision could be delayed.

An amendment from Democratic council members Kai Hagen and Jessica Fitzwater that would require data centers to meet U.S. Green Building Council standards for sustainability, water efficiency and energy usage was added to the council's meeting agenda Monday.

If the council votes to adopt the amendment, the entire bill would likely have a public hearing next week before returning to the council for another vote.

Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan