A data center development in Northern Virginia is boosting the size of its campus, and now plans to deploy more than 4 million square feet of server farm space in prime real estate in Data Center Alley in Ashburn.
Last week the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors reviewed a request from Vizsla Ventures to increase the size of its planned campus along Loudoun County Parkway from 1.67 million square feet to 4 million square feet. The project appears poised for approval at the Feb. 1 board meeting, when supervisors expect to hear details on the final placement of a walking path and landscaping berm.
The new data center is the latest in a series of multi-million square foot cloud campuses in Northern Virginia, as data center developers seek to keep pace with demand for server capacity from fast-growing cloud computing providers.
Vizsla shares an address with CloudHQ, an experienced data center developer which operates several large data centers in Ashburn, including a huge campus about a mile to the north. The listed applicant is Lammot du Pont, a former executive at data center development firm DuPont Fabros Development where he partnered with CloudHQ CEO Hossein Fateh.
A Taller and Denser Data Center Campus
The Vizsla development, known as Dulles Berry in local filings, sits between existing data center campuses operated by QTS Data Centers and Digital Realty, and a recently announced campus for STACK Infrastructure.
Buddy Rizer, the Executive Director of Loudoun County Economic Development. said the project fits the county’s vision for its bustling data center industry – supporting growth, but building in the right locations.
“They want more density and more height, and we want them to do that,” said Rizer, who noted that the site is nestled among one of the largest clusters of data centers, with no residential or retail developments nearby.
In recent meetings, the Loudoun planning commission and supervisors have grappled with several proposed data center projects that are adjacent to residential neighborhoods or require rezoning. Most of these applications are still in process, but reflect growing scrutiny of the concentration of data centers in Loudoun County and their impact on the community.
Most of the supervisors who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting indicated that a data center is appropriate for this location.
“This is where data centers belong,” said board chair Phyllis Randall, adding that “the questions and concerns raised today are not to be ignored,” including the amount of landscaping and distance from nearby roads.
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“This is a good place for data centers,” agreed supervisor Matthew Letourneau from the Dulles District, adding that “4 million square feet is probably the single largest project I’ve seen” as a supervisor. Letourneau raised questions about the removal of a landscaping berm, which the applicant said would impact utility infrastructure. Improved landscaping has been among the responses to residents’ concerns about the design of data centers and their visual appeal, especially for projects lining major roads.
Supervisor Sylvia Glass from the Broad Run District, where the Dulles Berry project is located, said she was “generally supportive” of the project, but asked for an extension of a 10-foot wide pedestrian trail along Loudoun County Parkway.
Seeking Data Centers in the Right Places
The Vizsla expansion requires an update of the site’s zoning to allow for the increased density, a common step for new data center developments in Ashburn. The update would allow a higher floor area ratio (FAR), a measurement of a building’s floor area in relation to the size of the land parcel where it is located, boosting the FAR from 0.4 to 1.1.
The project was initially approved by the Loudoun supervisors in 2019 as a 1.7 million square foot development. Since that approval, the demand for data centers space has escalated, leading developers to build larger buildings and campuses – especially in Ashburn’s Data Center Alley, the focal point for the growth of cloud computing.
Officials in Loudoun County want to help data center developers make the most of their real estate, and have been largely supportive of higher FAR and density on campuses, which is often achieved through building taller, multi-story data centers. Several developers have built three-story data centers, and future buildings on the new Equinix campus will be four stories tall to boost the volume of racks and servers that can reside in the buildings.
The Dulles Berry project will be multi-story, with the option of three or more stories, so long as the buildings remain below 100 feet in height.
Rizer says there’s still plenty of appetite for cloud capacity near Data Center Alley. “There’s still an incredible amount of demand,” said Rizer. “It’s just nuts.”
The county is nearing completion on an 18-month study to identify potential sites for data center development, repeating a process that the county first undertook in 2017.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the remaining development sites, and we will be identifying some more opportunities,” said Rizer. “We will also be saying that there are places where we don’t want data centers.”