A proposed zoning ordinance amendment is stirring up a lot of noise among Loudoun residents, especially in Ashburn’s “data center alley.”
According to staff reports, in 2014 the Zoning Ordinance Action Group agreed with other county departments that the county’s noise ordinances should be revised, but said standards should be reviewed “holistically” and not specifically focusing complaints related to data centers. Residents of the Regency community in Ashburn, however, turned out to the Planning Commission’s public hearing to refocus that conversation.
“Our residential community, which is located in Ashburn, is now at the heart of data center alley,” said Caitlyn Lindgren. She said noise from the data centers is a constant, tonal sound, unlike the intermittent noise generated by road or airport traffic.
“We recognize that there are noise concerns from kennels, and brewers, and airport noise, but data center noise is unique, and it’s important that this ordinance focus on the data centers,” Lindgren said.
“We do not want to impose additional economic harm on data centers,” said Robert Zotoli, chair of Regency’s noise committee, “but I, for one, spent $23,000 replacing the windows in my house so my 11-year-old could sleep at night… The citizens of this county should not be absorbing economic harm in order to promote business.”
Conrad Varblow told the commissioners that weather and temperature can have a drastic effect on how much data center noise reaches the community, and asked commissioners to account for that in any new ordinances.
County staff have recommended several changes to the current ordinances, including to apply them to non-stationary sources, create specifications for the sound meter and methodology used to measure noise, and change where sound is measured from the emitter’s property line to the receiver’s property line. Citizens have also asked for the maximum volume to be reduced five decibels at night.
For some people, there has been confusion even over which rules to discuss. The proposed ordinance change only affects zoning rules, but noise in Loudoun is regulated by two sets of regulations: zoning ordinances and codified ordinances.
Zoning ordinances are enforced by the county’s zoning administration, while county codified ordinances (from the Loudoun County Code of Ordinances, the same rulebook that governs offenses from unvaccinated dogs to tall grass) are enforced by the sheriff’s office.
The zoning ordinance governs stationary noise sources, including that from data centers and other businesses. Codified ordinances deal with problems like noise from dogs or cars.
“The ambiguity in code relating to how enforcement takes place is extremely concerning,” said Steve Ikirt, who lives in the Grenata subdivision near the Evergreen Sportsplex. Ikirt’s wife Debbie said noise from the stadium is a “nuisance without exception,” while her husband said residents are unsure whether to call the sheriff’s office or zoning enforcement.
“How it’s enforced leaves the residents at Grenata basically totally vulnerable to no enforcement at all,” Ikirt said.
Loudoun County Zoning Administration planner Theresa Stein reported that Loudoun is “one of the few places that have the codified and the zoning ordinance,” prompting Planning Commissioner Helena Syska (Sterling) to wonder if it would be simpler to have only codified noise ordinances to enforce.
The commission voted to send the question to a work session on Jan. 12.