The planning commission in King George County, Virginia, has given the preliminary green light to proposals for a 7.5 million sq ft (697,000 sqm) data center campus that is set to be occupied by Amazon.

First reported by the Free Lance-Star, the Planning Commission recommended approval for the project, for which Amazon will be the end customer.

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Site plan for phase one of development – Birchwood Power Partners

Birchwood Power Partners was requesting permission for an amendment to the County’s Comprehensive Plan as well as rezoning of land from Limited Agricultural (A-1) and Rural Agricultural (A-2) to Industrial District (I) zoning, as well as proffer and special exemption amendments that would clear the way for an 869-acre data center park.

“We believe the application as presented is reasonable and consistent with the county’s long-term economic development planning,” said Charlie Payne, the lawyer representing Birchwood.

Birchwood has been seeking permission to redevelop the former coal plant site for more than a year – having expanded the scope significantly since last year – but this was the first time Amazon was linked with the project.

Planning documents suggest that Birchwood is aiming to develop up to eight data center buildings totaling around four million sq ft (372,000 sqm) over a 15-year period in the initial phases. Construction is expected to begin 18-24 months after zoning permission is granted.

Further phases could see another 3.5 million sq ft (325,000 sqm) developed across several neighboring parcels of land. Preliminary plans suggest around nine smaller buildings and two more substations.

As well as three on-site substations, the campus would require new electrical distribution lines.

Staff recommended approval of all the proposals. The Planning Commission recommended that a 265-acre parcel south of Route 3 – the southern most plot in the proposal that could have hosted three buildings and a substation – not be included in the package. It also recommended to deny some requests around the substations.

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Site plan for future phases, though county planners recommended removing the southernmost parcel from the plans – Birchwood Power Partners

Some officials and residents spoke out against the impact of the proposed development on the rural nature of the county.

Planner Joseph DaCorta said: “We’re giving up a significant amount of farmland inventory, some of the most beautiful farmland in Virginia.”

The plans are set to go in front of the county Board of Supervisors later this year.

A large proportion of the proposed site is the former Birchwood Power Plant. The 258MW coal plant opened in 1996 and closed in 2021. The power plant has since been decommissioned but some legacy infrastructure components remain on a portion of the land, including a rail spur and Dominion substation.

Birchwood Power Partners, part of J-Power, previously said the site would be converted into a 50MW solar farm and energy storage facility but this plan has seemingly been dropped. The company had twice previously filed and then withdrawn plans to develop the site, most recently in November 2022 with plans that would have included a data center, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution facilities. Birchwood filed for a third time in July with this expanded proposal.

King George County is located east of Fredericksburg and borders the Potomac River. It borders Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Caroline Counties, with the Birchwood site close to the Stafford County line. Not traditionally part of Virginia's data center market, the county added data centers to its zoning ordinance in 2019.

Amazon has a significant data center presence across Virginia including in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties, and continues to build out at a rapid rate. AWS says it has invested around $35 billion in Virginia since 2006, and recently announced plans to invest an additional $35 billion by 2040.

Orange, Culpeper, Stafford, Fauquier, King George, Frederick, and Tazewell Counties have all seen data center applications filed in the last two years. Amazon is confirmed to be involved in a number of these proposals, and is rumored to be involved in more.

Earlier this year Amazon filed four applications for data center campuses in Virginia's Spotsylvania and Caroline Counties, amounting to more than 10 million square feet of development.

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