Add colonial-era Culpeper County to the growing list of localities worldwide where Amazon will locate a data center to meet ever-growing global demand for digital information.
The Board of Supervisors here, by a split vote Tuesday night, approved the controversial rezoning of 243 acres of farmland, along Rt. 3 near Stevensburg, to light industrial from agricultural for the project of Amazon Web Services’ subsidiary, Marvell Development.
It was a loss felt deeply by the historic and open-space conservation coalition that mounted opposition to the project for its potential to ruin the preserved rural character of the historic farming hamlet in eastern Culpeper.
Board approval paves the way for construction over several years of a pair of 45-feet-tall, 445,000-square-feet data centers on a 10-acre fenced-in complex with security cameras around the perimeter and large cooling equipment on the roof.
The land is currently in use as Magnolia Equestrian Center.
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The estimated $500 million-project also includes a six-acre substation the applicant says Dominion will build, powering the data centers by connecting to the nearby Remington-to-Gordonsville high-voltage line. The power company in 2018 started upgrading the line that passes by Stevensburg, a hamlet founded 1782, an estimated $107 million-project.
The Amazon facility served by Dominion will neighbor the historic, nationally recognized circa-1757 manse known as Salubria, built for the colonial governor’s widow.
The project sits across from a state-recognized Civil War encampment on the Brandy Station Battlefield, Hansbrough’s Ridge. The area is slated to become part of a state park.
Marring the setting of these valuable historic resources as well as the loss of farmland were major points among 41 people who spoke Tuesday night about the Amazon project in this area. Five spoke in favor of the data centers and a few were neutral, but the majority did not want it built there.
Salem Supervisor Tom Underwood, following two hours of public comment mostly in opposition, acted quickly around 10:30 pm Tuesday in making a motion to approve the rezoning request. Cedar Mountain Supervisor David Durr offered a second before the standing-room-only crowd in the boardroom.
Chairman Gary Deal and Catalpa Supervisor Paul Bates provided the other two yes votes to give the project majority support.
Vice Chairman Brad Rosenberger, of the Jefferson District, the most senior member of the board, voted no, along with Stevensburg Supervisor Susan Gugino and East Fairfax Supervisor Kathy Campbell.
Deal and Bates acknowledged the “passion” of the opposition for the historical sites.
“Culpeper is my home for generations,” said Bates, adding he did not make the decision lightly.
He said he walked Hansbrough’s Ridge during the March 28 history tour in the area sponsored by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Piedmont Environmental Council, American Battlefield Trust and Germanna Foundation. Bates commented most Culpeper natives had never heard of the ridge.
He said he didn’t think the data center would negatively affect the battlefield state park up-and-coming in the vicinity. Bates mentioned a data center coexisting close to Bull Run Regional Park on the Manassas Battlefield.
“We need to look at the future of our county,” he said, noting it doesn’t have to be one side or the other. “I think we can get along,” Bates said, calling for compromise.
Rosenberger said he wasn’t going to vote for a project that even remotely smacks of spot-zoning.
“I can see where this is going,” he said as Underwood and Durr moved to pass the request.
Rosenberger referenced the county’s comprehensive plan whose land use map designs the area zoned as agricultural.
“The comp plan is the view of the future of the people of this community,” he said, stating the board needed to make its decisions based on the plan. “The comp plan is the checkbook—the money in the bank is the zoning ordinance.”
Northern Virginia land use attorney John Foote, representing Amazon, stated the project would generate $5-$8 million in local taxes. He said 100 acres of the property would be placed in conservation easement within two years.
Campbell said she was deeply shocked the board would pass the rezoning after hearing so much opposition from constituents.
“I am against it,” she said.
Stay with starexponent.com for more on this breaking news story and pick up Thursday’s print edition for the whole story.