John Foote Data center attorney

John Foote, a land-use attorney with the Arlington-based law firm Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh, which represents Amazon, on July 26 repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the details of the Blackwell power substation project or any role in its planning.

The Warrenton Planning Commission grilled counsel representing Amazon Data Services Inc. during a work session Tuesday, mainly asking questions related to the Blackwell Substation project, which would be located on the same property as the company’s proposed data center.

John Foote, a land-use attorney with the Arlington-based law firm Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh, which represents Amazon, repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the details of the Blackwell project -- outside of the substation’s location -- or any role in its planning.

“We are not involved in Dominion's decision-making process,” Foote said. “I don't have anything to do with any of the work, and Dominion answers not to me but to the State Corporation Commission.”

In April, Foote’s firm officially filed a land-use application with the town of Warrenton requesting to build an approximately 33-acre data center facility on its property, which the company purchased for $39.7 million back in September 2021, at the intersection of Blackwell Road and Lee Highway. 

The application was for a special-use permit to build an approximately 220,000-square-foot, single-story, 37-feet-high data center in Warrenton behind the Country Chevrolet. In August 2021, the council approved a zoning ordinance text amendment that would allow data centers to be built in the town following the approval of the special-use permit. 

Within weeks of Amazon’s application, Dominion Energy made the Fauquier Board of Supervisors aware it would be filing an application with the State Corporation Commission in the fall proposing to build a substation on the same property and construct a transmission line connecting the substation to one of two others in Fauquier or Prince William counties. 

On Tuesday, Warrenton and other county residents crowded into the town hall building on Main Street during the Planning Commission’s work session to hear more about the plans for the proposed data center and questions posed to Foote by the commissioners. 

Most questions Foote fielded from commissioners were related to the Blackwell project, and many people in the audience erupted in applause following Commissioner Ali Zarabi’s comments condemning the idea of building a data center in town. 

“What's happening in Culpeper ... in Prince William ... in Loudoun is not exactly I think the roadmap to follow for the town of Warrenton,” Zarabi said. 

Zarabi probed Foote as to the “nature” and “function” of the data center, to which Foote asked Zarabi, “Do you not know what a data center is?” 

Zarabi admitted he was “ignorant” to what a data center does and asked for the commission to do a site visit to a similar type of facility owned by Amazon to learn more about how it operates.

Commissioner James Lawrence, who joined the meeting via video streaming, also asked Foote to “address the potential for a power line marring the scenic gateway into the town serving the space.”

But Foote said he couldn’t speak to the Blackwell project. 

“Madam Chair, we cannot, and we cannot for the very simple reason we know no more about [than] the Planning Commission,” he said.

Foote did clarify several lingering questions about how much water the facility would use. 

“Engineers and architects estimated that the water usage at this site will be 1,500 gallons per day,” he said. “That's effectively the equivalent of four homes.” 

Foote said the data center would not use water for cooling. However, the facility would connect to the town’s water supply. 

Commissioner Gerald Johnston said his main concern is whether he would be able to see the data center from his home, which is adjacent to the facility across Blackwell Road.

“I actually live in those townhouses right across the street,” he said. “The deck of our house when those leaves come down the fall, I can see that field. So I'm concerned with all those houses there that you're line of sight that you've taken from the road, looking at the angle, to building the trees, creating that screen is not taking into account the second floor for the first four decks of those houses.”

Foote said a mixture of “added evergreen [trees]” would be added to the mix of trees that would buffer the property to provide a “four-season screen.” 

When asked if there would be any public outreach regarding the data center, Foote said the idea “was under review.” 

It is unclear when the Planning Commission plans to vote on the data center land-use proposal. 

Susan Helander, chair of the Planning Commission, implied the data center proposal may have several public hearings before a vote.

“Larger projects with moving parts require us, as well as staff, to review and ask questions of the applicant,” she said. “If needed, applications have several work sessions after which we hold a public hearing.”

The next regular Planning Commission hearing will be held on Aug. 16, and its next work session will be on Aug. 23. 

 

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Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Dominion Energy has not submitted an application to the Fauquier Board of Supervisors. Dominion has only introduced proposed transmission line routes and the location of the Blackwell substation to supervisors. It plans to submit an application to the State Corporation Commission for review in the fall. 

(5) comments

Anne Zee

I would not mind data centers where they belong - near the required power. But defacing our environment with 100+ ft power towers to power JUST this one building is unacceptable. Having property belonging to my friends and neighbors devalued so amazon and dominion can make money? No good! And having the Dominion customers pay for the privilege of construction? Nope.

Jill

I agree with Ann!

Sam

I favor data centers (clean, quiet neighbors that employ my neighbors) and more than enough power to run them. We all need power and this time of year we are reminded often enough of that fact.

Jill

Sam, data centers don't employ many people, best to my knowledge. They are eyesores that gobble up acres of land. There's a new idea that uses solar synergistically with agriculture and animal husbandry. Clean power that doesn't need unsightly towers etc. Do we really want this big data center for bitcoin?

Sam

Jill asks "Do we really want this big data center for bitcoin?"

No, it is unlikely to have anything to do with bitcoin, which has crashed and bears little or no relationship with Amazon, which stores data for government and industry and people. This is where digits go when stored in the AWS "cloud."

Is there a better commercial use you prefer? Automobile repair? Animal slaughterhouse? Used cars?

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