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April 26, 2022

Amazon projected to affect Culpeper’s rural landscape

Members of the public stand on Hansbrough Ridge on March 28 for a tour of local historical resources that may be affected by Amazon data center. In the background is the site for the project. (Photo by Maria Basileo)
By Maria Basileo
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Nestled in between two of Culpeper County’s historic sites lay plans for construction on two industrial buildings on over 230 agricultural acres courtesy of Amazon Web Services.

Currently the location of Magnolia Equestrian Center on Route 3 in Stevensburg, the property will soon house over 400,000-square-feet of structures and a six-acre substation with the backdrop of Culpeper’s rolling agricultural lands.

“I would say personally, and certainly the way PEC views it, is (we were) incredibly disappointed,” said Senior Policy Manager and Field Representative for Culpeper, Madison and Greene counties for The Piedmont Environmental Council Adam Gillenwater.

Nearly 40 members of the public took to the podium during a Culpeper County Board of Supervisors meeting on April 5 to outline their objections to the application’s passage.

Despite hours of requests for denial, the measure was passed with a 4 to 3 vote.

Supervisors Gary Deal, Tom Underwood, Paul Bates and David Durr voted in favor and Supervisors Susan Gugino, Brad Rosenberger and Kathy Campbell voted against it.

Some of PEC concerns for the project included “clear adverse impacts” to historic and scenic resources combined with the “yet-to-be-determined” transmission line infrastructure that will be needed to provide electricity and power.

On March 28, representatives from The Germanna Foundation, American Battlefield Trust, Journey Through Hallowed Ground and PEC took members of the public as well as Culpeper County Supervisors on an over two hour tour of Salubria and Hansbrough Ridge as a form of educational outreach.

“(We wanted) to provide our take and our concerns about why we didn't think this data center was appropriate in this location and to also convey those concerns to members of the board, who would have the ultimate decision,” Gillenwater said.

Salubria, which is about a half mile from the site, is an 18th century Georgian-style manor house built by the Reverend John Thompson. The home was placed on the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register in 1969 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Hansbrough Ridge, which sits on the opposite side of Route 3, played an instrumental role in the Civil War in many aspects including hosting 20,000 soldiers of the Army of the Potomac’s 2nd Corps for five months during the winter of 1863-1864.

Gugino, who represents the Stevensburg district, indicated during the tour that she had primarily heard negative comments about the proposed project.

“I’ve been hearing nothing but, ‘Please protect our farm land. Please protect our character,’” she said.

“It’s really their input that matters to me over my personal convictions.”

The majority, she continued, indicate it’s “the right time, wrong place.”

“We don’t think it’s good land use planning to essentially spot zone agricultural land or land in general for that matter to industrial use to accommodate proposals like this,” Gillenwater said.

Another objection, Gillenwater said, was how fast the application seemed to move through the county’s staff, advisory board and taxing body.

“There was no reason for it to move as quickly as it moved, considering the significant degree of impacts that (it’s going to have).”

Prior to the vote, PEC took direct actions with the public to educate them on the pending passage by taking an advertisement on Facebook.

“Now it's more important than ever that supervisors hear from their constituents about the impacts this industrial rezoning would have on a rural and uniquely historic/scenic area of Culpeper,” it read. “Urge the Board to do the right thing and encourage Amazon to seek a location in the County that is already industrially-zoned for data centers.”

Gillenwater also projected “several dozen” people used a website they created to send letters directly to supervisors.
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