Loudoun County's Leesburg council has unanimously passed design guidelines for any data centers in the town's limits.
Unlike neighboring Ashburn, Virginia's Leesburg is not currently home to any data centers, though this may be soon to change.
The town has three active rezoning applications that may be for data center developments. One is near the former Westpark Golf Course, another in the Oaklawn development, and the third at the easter end of the Village at Leesburg.
The approved guidelines include "encouragement" to make green construction decisions including avoiding sensitive land, installing alternative power sources, using free cooling where possible, and minimizing any impacts to forest areas, as well as expected requirements to provide "appropriate" parking capacity and space for queueing on entry.
Where things get a little more specific is in the aesthetic of the data centers. The data centers should be designed to "approximate a multi-story office building," and should feature regular architectural elements including building step-backs, projections, recesses, or a 30 percent change in patterns, color, or materials. These variations should occur at intervals of no less than a 1:4 ratio relative to the building height - so if a building is 60ft tall, an architectural feature should occur every 240 feet.
The guidelines also state that data center campuses containing multiple buildings are "encouraged to provide variety in building size, massing, siting, and appearance by transitioning, from smaller or lower buildings along street frontages to larger and taller structures on the interior of the site."
In addition, all mechanical and electrical equipment must be screened from public view by opaque walls or fences, and rooftop equipment should similarly be shielded by a parapet.
Neil Steinberg, vice mayor of Leesburg, said at the town council meeting: "I realize this is an important discussion and we're taking a big step in this legislation and this is a good effort in setting up these standards. I don't think we should ever lose sight of the fact that in the end, we need these data centers. But there are two things we should keep in mind.
"One, in the end, it is all about the money, and it is a lot of money, and the reason we know that is because of the tax revenue that can be generated here. We also know that we have no idea what the sum total of the dollars are, because the industry isn't telling us, and if we asked directly I suspect they won't, and that's fine. So there are benefits, both in terms of revenue and services.
"But in the end, in my opinion, this council must have the political will to decide in spite of these best efforts and in spite of what the industry says they need, that we decide well if those are the facts of this particular application or case, we are not putting a data center here, or there. There may be suitable sites. But there are places in town where these won't work."
Leesburg is located along Virginia's border with Maryland, officially a part of Virginia's Loudoun County. Northern Virginia has the largest data center market globally, with a particularly high density of facilities in Loudoun County, Prince William County, and Fairfax County.