622-acre data center project greenlit by Henrico Board of Supervisors

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Henrico County Board of Supervisors has approved a request for over 600 acres of land in the eastern part of the county to be used for the development of data centers.

In a scheduled meeting on Tuesday, May 14, the board voted unanimously to allow a total of just over 622 acres of land be used for manufacturing and production by developer Hourigan. Specifically, the request describes both data center and “advanced manufacturing” facilities.

There was discussion during the meeting that other sorts of facilities, such as office buildings, could be possible depending on interest.

These parcels of land are located on the north and south sides of East Williamsburg Road at its intersection with Technology Boulevard. It is also bordered by Interstates 295 and 64. Most of the land that would be developed is currently forest.

According to an explanation of the request provided during the meeting by planning director Joe Emerson, a total of 65% of the space would be developed, with this “developable area” marked in blue on the first of the two maps shown below. This means 35% of the land, marked in brown, will remain undeveloped and open.

Emerson said that many of the planning decisions replicate development decisions made in the White Oak Technology Park, where several other Henrico data centers are located.

During the meeting, Emerson said Hourigan was asked if solar panels would be able to be placed on the data center rooftops, seemingly to offset environmental concerns relating to data centers. This is reportedly not possible, as data centers are designed with cooling equipment on their rooftops.

However, according to Emerson, Hourigan and Dominion Energy are making a $5 million commitment to provide solar panels to up to 250 Henrico County homes. New affordable housing will reportedly be prioritized, but it will not be limited to such properties.

Virginia reportedly has the largest concentration of data centers in the world. Henrico County is home to several of them already.

Data centers currently operating in Henrico County. (Photo: Henrico County Board of Supervisors)

During the meeting, there was significant discussion between board members and representatives for the request, clarifying a variety of points from noise and air pollution to the potential overuse of water.

The public comment period featured many residents who came out to speak on this subject.

For those against this development, environmental concerns were touched on the most. Some residents also worried about the hyper-industrialization of their neighborhoods, as well as the 10 years of construction noise described by project planners. Additionally, health concerns regarding air pollution from generators that will be on-site were presented by multiple speakers.

The board wanted a commitment from the developers that they would internally monitor air pollution produced by its facilities and provide the public with information on it, rather than simply depending on required annual reporting.

The representatives called this request “highly unusual” and would not make this commitment at the time of the meeting, but are reportedly open to it in the future as things progress.

There was also discussion surrounding what sort of data centers would be built. The representatives could not commit to whether or not the data centers would focus on artificial intelligence, saying they do not yet have contracts confirmed as they need permission to develop before they can do this.

Concerns were presented about how much more energy demand artificial intelligence requires. Additionally, some residents floated ethical concerns about AI and said they would not like a data center focused on it within their county.

Those who spoke in favor of the development said they believe the economic value of data centers will benefit the community by increasing property values and providing jobs. For example, an electricians’ union expressed support, saying it would put their people to work as well as help them provide more apprenticeships.

Data centers in Henrico have brought about $18 million in tax revenue into the county to date, according to data provided by Emerson. There was discussion by board members, following comments by residents, that perhaps the tax on data centers should be raised to further benefit the county.

According to representatives, this project will still take time to get off the ground, with those 10 years of construction potentially years off themselves.

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