The Warrenton Town Council voted 4-3 on Wednesday to approve a proposal by Amazon to build a $550 million data center at the intersection of Lee Highway and Blackwell Road, the tech giant’s third such location in Fauquier County.
The council meeting, which packed the Fauquier High School auditorium on Tuesday evening and lingered into the early morning hours of Wednesday, marked the culmination of months of contentious debates between those who argue the development will rob the rural town of 10,000 of its identity and Amazon proponents who say the 220,000-square-foot development will be a boon for the town’s tax revenue.
In all, approximately 130 people signed up to voice opposition at the meeting, including 92-year-old actor and local resident Robert Duvall. Principal among residential concerns is the noise that may be generated by the expansive center, as well as secondary development — including additional power structures built by Dominion Energy — and environmental issues the data center may catalyze.
“I think that you have this tremendous opportunity to be true to the vision of what Warrenton was set out to be many years ago,” resident Peggy DiVincenzo said at the meeting, according to Fauquier Now. “But also to prevent the sense of community from dissipating and the sense of dissatisfaction from becoming prominent.”
Citizens for Fauquier County board member David Norden, who also is a former town council member, echoed the sentiments of concerned residents, calling the tax revenue benefits “not work the risk” of the additional development that could soon arrive on the town’s doorstep, The Washington Post reported. Others argued that the council should spend as much time as it did during Tuesday night’s meeting on more topics they say are more important, like developing affordable housing.
Of the four “yes” votes, council member Jay Heroux dismissed the notion that adding the data center would taint the county’s character, stating that the area’s business district, where the development would be located, is designed specifically zoned for industrial use and would not ruin the town’s rural and historical interests.
Heroux also cited present businesses such as Country Chevrolet, Sheetz, CVS, and the Hampton Inn as examples of development coexisting among rural features. They are businesses that, like Amazon, retain rights to develop if purchasing privately owned land, he said.
“They employ our citizens. They pay taxes,” Heroux said of the businesses. “There are over 300 [street] lights — I counted them — of all types at night as you enter the town of Warrenton. That’s not rural. It’s busy, and it’s loud.”
Beyond developmental concerns, complaints rested on a 2021 zoning amendment vote that helped establish sites for Warrenton-based data centers, a measure that was endorsed by then-town manager Brandie Schaeffer, who was subsequently hired by Amazon in 2022 after she vacated her role with the town government.
With residents hinting at under-the-table agreements between company executives and Warrenton officials, the town council voted to approve the release — to council members only, not the public — of 3,142 emails exchanged between Schaeffer and Amazon officials prior to her resignation. That review, however, did not take place before the final vote was cast Wednesday.
Amazon first filed its development proposal with Warrenton in April 2022. As part of the vote Tuesday, company officials drafted measures designed to mitigate noise and environmental impact while agreeing to annual noise tests and occupancy guidelines.
Still, council members and residents alike remained steadfast in resisting the development.
“The fight is not over,” council member David McGuire said at the meeting’s conclusion.
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