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September 27, 2021

Amazon pays $39.7-million for town data center site

Photo/Google Earth
Amazon Data Services paid $952,000 per acre for the property in Warrenton.
Amazon has not submitted an application for a data center or provided town staff with a layout or design. Based on my understanding of the timeline, there is no rush, but we could see the initial application before the end of the year.
— Town Manager Brandie Schaeffer
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Contributing Journalist
Data center giant Amazon last week completed its $39.7-million purchase of Warrenton property — the most expensive real estate transaction in Fauquier history.

Seattle-based Amazon Data Services Inc. on Sept. 21 closed the deal for 41.7 acres along Blackwell Road, Lee Highway and the Route 17 Spur.

After paying $952,000 per acre, the company plans to build a data center on the vacant tract, typically planted in corn, “behind” Country Chevrolet.

“Amazon has not submitted an application for a data center or provided town staff with a layout or design,” Town Manager Brandie Schaeffer wrote in an email early Monday morning. “Based on my understanding of the timeline, there is no rush, but we could see the initial application before the end of the year.”

Representing Amazon, attorney John Foote in June told the town planning commission that the proposed data center could produce $4 million to $5 million a year in town and county tax revenue.

Company officials this summer met one-on-one with town officials, who signed non-disclosure agreements, to discuss the proposal.

“Amazon has updated the town throughout the negotiations to purchase the 42 acres, meeting with both the planning commission and town council to answer basic questions related to data center use,” Ms. Schaeffer said.

The council in August voted, 7-0, to add data centers as a permitted use on industrial land. Warrenton’s zoning ordinance previously made no mention of data centers, which have sprung up quickly over the past couple of decades in neighboring Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Building a data center in Warrenton requires a special use permit from the town council. Both the planning commission and council conduct public hearings as part of that process.

Town council members last month said data centers offer good tax revenue with relatively little demand on public services.

“When we weigh the benefits to the community, it’s a pretty good use” of industrial property, said Kevin Carter (Ward 5).

Depending upon its location on the site, Amazon’s proposed data center could remain largely hidden from passing motorists and nearby properties.

But, in changing the zoning ordinance to allow data centers, council members pledged they would evaluate any application carefully.

“Each application will be judged on its merit,” Sean Polster (At-large) said.

Warrenton has only one other significant industrial parcel, the former Virginia Wire Factory site: 37.4 acres along the Eastern Bypass, Falmouth Street and Old Meetze Road. Culpeper County resident David Dobson owns that land, previously proposed for redevelopment as an apartment complex.

An Amazon subsidiary in recent years has built two data centers at the federal government’s secretive Warrenton Training Center just northwest of town. French company OVH redeveloped a building to house the county’s third data center at Vint Hill.

But, as sites in Northern Virginia become scarcer and more expensive, data center companies probably will focus more attention on Fauquier and Warrenton.

The board of supervisors have approved one near Remington and another has been proposed at Catlett.

Walmart in the early 1990s wanted to build its Warrenton store on the Weissberg tract, but traffic concerns played a significant role in town officials’ opposition. Other proposals for the site have faced the same challenge, with the busy Blackwell Road/Lee Highway intersection a limiting factor. The Virginia Department of Transportation also has opposed creating new access to the site along Lee Highway.

The family-owned Weissberg Corp., also has the Warrenton Village shopping center and the Blackwell Office Park in town.

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.
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