Culpeper Town Council is struggling to decide whether to approve the rezoning of a property along East Chandler Street to develop a six-building, 4.3 million sq ft data center campus and substation in Culpeper County, Virginia.
The 116-acre parcel of land is currently zoned as Residential-2 after plans were kicked off for a 490-home project around 15 years ago. No such development ended up taking place. Current developers are seeking to change it to industrial land for the Copper Ridge data center project.
The Town Planning Commission voted on the rezoning on August 15 after deferring from the month before, resulting in a tie with two votes in favor and two against. A key concern of locals is that the project is adjacent to a cemetery, with veterans concerned that the project would impact the "sanctity" and "silence" of the cemetery, as well as the nearby residences which would deal with noise, traffic, and visual impact.
Because a decision was not finalized, the issue will now be passed to the council without a recommendation either for or against. An exact date for the decision has not been shared, but the Culpeper Council meets on the second Tuesday of each month, making the next meeting September 12.
The rezoning application was first filed in May 2023. It is not clear what company is behind the development, but the land is owned by CR1/Culpeper LLC and CR2/Culpeper LLC and it has been speculated that CloudHQ may be part of the development.
Vietnam veteran Kerry Romesberg said at the public hearing: "I’ve attended hundreds of funerals at the cemetery. I’ve seen the faces, I’ve heard the sobs, seen the people coming there to celebrate the life of the deceased. They want to see the folding of the flag. They want to hear the rifle volley, the playing of Taps (a bugle call) and they want to hear the sound of silence. I beg you not to ruin the sanctity of this sacred place."
Commissioner John Cerio, also a former veteran and who voted in favor of the rezoning argued that the data center development would be 900 feet away from the cemetery, whereas the previously suggested residential development would be just 10 feet away. “I don’t think that would be very good for the cemetery, and would distract a lot more people on their back deck playing music or having a BBQ,” Cerio said.
Stephen Plescow, president of St Mawes real estate developers, represented the rezoning applicant. He argued that the development would respect the setting and that it would be their "top priority" to keep the cemetery shielded from the campus with a 100-feet buffer as a minimum, and that they would not get rid of the existing trees there.
The building height that was proposed has also been lowered from 75 feet to 40 feet, and the project will provide between 200-250 jobs in the future.
Plescow also stated that the noise produced will be limited to 60 decibels during the day and 55 at night. According to the CDC, a whisper is around 30 decibels, while 60 decibels is equivalent to "normal conversation." Prolonged noise over 70 decibels can damage hearing.
Finally, Plescow argued that there is already the electrical and data center infrastructure in the area, making it the ideal location.
“Virginia has the most data centers on the planet, is part of the economic plan for the state, the governor is a proponent, it’s our driving industry. We are not gambling on this project. Virginia is a data center state,” Plescow said.
Culpeper County has several data center applications in process. CloudHQ acquired 100 acres in July 2022 for a development that may be related, and Peterson Companies announced plans for a nearby campus to the Copper Ridge proposal. The county is also home to four Equinix data centers.