Warrenton Planning Commission will hold public hearing on Amazon proposal Nov. 15 – Fauquier Times - eComEmpireStore + Brought to You By: Robert Villapane Ramos


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Warrenton Planning Commission will hold public hearing on Amazon proposal Nov. 15 – Fauquier Times

Cloudy skies with periods of rain late. Low 54F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.. Cloudy skies with periods of rain late. Low 54F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch. Updated: November 10, 2022 @ 5:51 pmSusan […]



Cloudy skies with periods of rain late. Low 54F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch..
Cloudy skies with periods of rain late. Low 54F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.
Updated: November 10, 2022 @ 5:51 pm
Susan Rae Helander
Ali Zarabi
Dominion Energy 230kV transmission lines connecting the Remington and Warrenton substations traverse the Edgewood residential subdivision near Bealeton.
This is a map of the Amazon data center’s planned layout; the inset provides examples of what the security gates could look like. 

Susan Rae Helander
The Town of Warrenton has scheduled a planning commission public hearing for Nov. 15 on Amazon’s application to build a data center in town – even though Amazon’s most recent filing makes it clear the application is incomplete. The decision to hold a public hearing took opponents, and even some planning commissioners, by surprise.
The commission could decide to vote on the application after the public hearing or could decide to further deliberate. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at Warrenton Town Hall, 21 Main St.
A planning commission decision on the project is only advisory; the town council makes the final decision.
Two commissioners said in interviews last week they were flummoxed by the decision to move forward, as Amazon had just submitted new materials, and other required information was still missing. One asked not to be quoted. The other, Ali Zarabi, who has previously stated his opposition to the project, said: “I believe, based on my initial evaluation of what changes and additions to conditions have been submitted, it’s not appropriate to move to a public hearing.”
“How can you have a public hearing when the application is incomplete?” asked Kevin Ramundo, president of Citizens for Fauquier County, which opposes the data center. (The Piedmont Journalism Foundation, which funded and produced this story, shares a board member, Harry Atherton, with CFFC.)
The move fuels fears of data center opponents that Amazon is rushing to get its application voted on by the current town council before a new council is seated Jan. 1. Of the two expected new members, at least one is skeptical of the project. However, it is unclear whether the town council could – or would want to – hold a work session, a public hearing and a vote, all on Dec. 13.
This is a map of the Amazon data center’s planned layout; the inset provides examples of what the security gates could look like. 
Susan Helander, who chairs the planning commission, said in an interview last week that the town’s staff had scheduled the public hearing at Amazon’s request and because a clock was running. “I think the applicant was consulted with this, and they decided to move forward,” she said. “In theory, anyone who doesn’t provide all the information, if information doesn’t come to us that we request, it doesn’t bode well for their vote.”
She said she would like to hold the hearing because her term is ending, and she would prefer not to hand the issue off to new commissioners. However, the other commissioner whose term ends this year, Zarabi, said a public hearing at this stage is “inappropriate.”
Helander said the decision to move to a public hearing was made by Planning Manager Denise Harris. Harris did not answer emailed questions from the Piedmont Journalism Foundation. But an email she sent to commissioners last week said: “The applicant wants to proceed to a public hearing this month.”
On Thursday, Helander said she was trying to plan for potentially large numbers of residents wanting to speak. At a recent meeting in Prince William County on a massive data center development there, 240 people spoke for about 10 hours.
To explain the running clock, two planning commissioners shared with the Piedmont Journalism Foundation an opinion written by town attorney Martin Crim and sent to them by Harris. It cites a state law that requires a planning commission to vote on rezonings within 100 days after its first meeting on the request. Crim advised that rezonings and special-use permits, which Amazon is seeking, are “similar,” and that 100 days is a reasonable time for making a decision. If the planning commission is not satisfied with the application, its recourse is to “vote to recommend denial,” he wrote.
The first planning commission meeting focused on Amazon was on July 26; 100 days would have been Nov. 4. However, the town canceled the August meeting on the application because Amazon had not submitted requested materials, and Amazon canceled the September meeting because it wanted to meet with town officials on noise issues. The state law does not address whether such postponements delay the clock.
Ali Zarabi
Resident opposition to the data center has swirled around two key issues: the constant noise the data center could create and the possibility of 230 kilovolts power lines being built across yards and neighborhoods.
The zoning code requires a noise impact study, and Amazon filed one Sept. 9 that said the data center would abide by town noise limits, with one small exception in an uninhabited area. But in Amazon’s latest filing Oct. 28, Amazon attorney John Foote said “that ‘study’ was only a preliminary draft.” He also said that at the time he filed it, he did not know it was a draft.
The study was done by Polysonics, an acoustics consulting company in Warrenton. Company president Gordon Jacobs said Friday that Amazon had asked for an update, and his company forwarded “findings and information that we had gathered.” He said the information was not “fully vetted, and it wasn’t an official report.”
He said their final report would be more voluminous and carefully documented, but he could not estimate when it would be ready. He did say the final report would assure the town that noise limits would be met, because his firm, in addition to measuring noise issues, helps clients meet legal limits.
One unsettled question is which table of noise limits in the zoning code applies to the project; one is stricter than the other. Amazon has said it is seeking a town staff ruling on which table to use, as well as interpretation of zoning code language that would penalize a data center for making a “hum or screech.”
Dominion Energy 230kV transmission lines connecting the Remington and Warrenton substations traverse the Edgewood residential subdivision near Bealeton.
County residents are also concerned about 230 kilovolts high-powered transmission lines that Dominion Energy has said it would need to run to a substation at the Amazon site to power the 220,000-square-foot data center. Maps released by Dominion in the spring and summer showed the lines crossing neighborhoods in the New Baltimore area, which ramped up protests from residents.
But recent developments have muddied the water. In its Oct. 28 submission, Amazon declared that “no electric substation” would be permitted on its site, which could eliminate the need for the high-powered transmission lines to Blackwell Road and allay residents’ fears. Amazon also said in its filing that it “proposes to request and pay for the undergrounding of all electrical lines” – presumably smaller distribution lines – from an off-site substation serving the facility. But, it adds, “final decision on this rests with others.”
Dominion said last month it could power the data center by running smaller distribution lines from a substation on Old Auburn Road, about two and one-half miles to the south — if it could expand that facility onto neighboring land. But a Dominion spokesman later indicated it might not be able to do that. Meanwhile, adding more confusion, Amazon has said it could operate on existing local power for three to five years,
Spencer Snakard, who heads a coalition concerned about the power lines, said Amazon’s statements about substation location and burying lines only raise more questions. First, she noted, it is the State Corporation Commission that decides where power lines travel and where substations are built – not Amazon or even Dominion. Second, she noted that a town zoning amendment states that any “electric service lines” from a substation to the data center must be buried – which in her view puts that onus on the developer, Amazon. Third, she said, a proposal to “request and pay” is still not a guarantee that they will pay.
With all these balls in the air, some are asking, “What’s the rush?”
In a press release Friday, Citizens for Fauquier County asked that action be postponed until Amazon’s application is complete, a new town council and planning commission are seated and a comprehensive review of the process is undertaken. “This is the most consequential land-use decision the town has probably ever made,” Ramundo wrote.
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