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July 21, 2021

Data center, bowling alley plans advance in town

Google Earth
Amazon Data Services has a contract to buy Warrenton’s largest undeveloped tract — behind Country Chevrolet (lower left), between the Eastern Bypass (top) and Lee Highway.
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The bowling and entertainment center would operate in the former Peebles/Gordmans department store building in the Warrenton Village Center.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Contributing Journalist
Warrenton’s planning commission Tuesday night advanced the prospects for an Amazon data center and for a bowling/entertainment center in town.

The commission voted, 5-1, to recommend town council approval of a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow data centers on industrial property. But, building one still would require special use permit approval from the town council.

The commission also unanimously recommended council approval of a special use permit for an entertainment center in the former Peebles department store building in the Warrenton Village Center.

Both proposals will go before the town council for public hearings Tuesday, Aug. 10.

Amazon Data Services has a contract to buy the triangular, 41.7-acre parcel behind Country Chevrolet, between Lee Highway and the Eastern Bypass.

The Weissberg family, which also has a shopping center and office building in town, owns the property.

Representing Amazon, attorney John Foote last month said Amazon’s proposed data center could produce $4 million to $5 million in town and county tax revenue.

But, some members of the commission expressed concerns about that prospect and cited the new comprehensive plan’s emphasis on creating more jobs and housing options in Warrenton — with that parcel as a potential candidate for mixed-used development. They also worried about a potential lack of citizen input on a data center.

But, Commissioner James Lawrence, who expressed reservations in June, said a proposed data center would get plenty of scrutiny. It would require public hearings before the planning commission and the council.

“What we’re really being asked is whether the town can consider a data center,” Mr. Lawrence explained. “There are some very strong financial reasons to consider it . . . . What we’re really doing is saying should the town consider this, and I think we should.”

Commissioner Ali Zarabi, who also voted against the new comprehensive plan, opposed the recommendation on data centers. It passed, 5-1.

Warrenton’s existing zoning ordinance makes no provision for data centers.

Several proposals for the Weissberg property’s development have surfaced over the decades. In the early 1990s, Walmart proposed building its Warrenton store there.

But, largely because of concerns about traffic and access, the planning commission three decades ago recommend denial of that proposal. Walmart withdrew the plan before it went to the town council.

The same concerns — difficult access and congestion at Blackwell Road and Lee Highway — have thwarted development of the largest vacant parcel in Warrenton.

Under its Vadata Inc. subsidiary, Amazon in 2016 built a $200-million data center on the federal government’s secretive Warrenton Training Center campus just west of town.

As raw land for data centers in adjacent Loudoun and Prince William counties costs as much as $1 million per acre, Fauquier and Warrenton probably will grow more attractive to companies that build them.

Fauquier has three data centers, with two more proposed. Warrenton has none.

Mr. Foote said Amazon quickly would apply for a special use permit if the town council adds data centers to potential use of industrial land in Warrenton.

Bowling/entertainment center

As expected, the commission enthusiastically recommended approval of Brett and Patricia Mills’ plan to open a 25,000-square-foot entertainment center.

Mr. Mills told the commission he has worked on his plan for almost four years.

The Culpeper County couple’s plan calls for 18 bowling lanes, a 9-hole blacklight miniature golf course, a game arcade, a pro shop and a snack bar serving food, soft drinks, beer and wine.

They plan to invest about $2 million to open the center, Mr. Mills said in an interview earlier this month.

A software engineer, Mr. Mills operates a home-based business that provides bowling equipment and supplies. The 1985 Fauquier High School graduate frequented Warrenton Lanes on Broadview Avenue that closed abruptly eight years ago.

“Brett and I are avid bowlers,” Mrs. Mills said. “We go to Front Royal, Manassas, everywhere but Fauquier County.”

They said strong demand exists for casual and league bowling here. Lots of potential employees and patrons already have contacted him, Mr. Mills added.

Commission Chairwoman Susan Helander welcomed “the thought of a bowling alley or something to do in this town.”

Mr. Lawrence agreed: “I have three kids.”

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

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