Northern Virginia: Prince William County to pursue noise regulations for data centers

Mar 07, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

Virginia's Prince William County officials are looking into amending the county's noise regulations around data centers, having passed a resolution to initiate amendments to the Design Construction Standards Manual (DCSM) and zoning ordinance. These will reportedly assist officials in addressing "any impacts data centers might have on the community."

Through the process, officials will be able to assess the introduction of noise mitigation measures at data centers, including noise walls and noise studies which look at:
  • Buffering, 
  • Berms, 
  • Setbacks, 
  • Landscaping, 
  • Screening, 
  • Fencing, 
  • Building design and height, 
  • Environmental impacts, and 
  • Land disturbance

In addition to this, the Board also amended the Noise Ordinance as part of the County Code, removing the commercial HVAC exemption from the nighttime maximum permissible sound pressure levels. The amendment went into effect that day, with officials attaching a one-year sunset clause, after which the ordinance will not be removed, but instead reviewed to assess whether or not further changes are required. 

In January, the Board reportedly directed county staff to establish a working group of residents, industry representatives and other stakeholders to work together across the next 12 months to review the status of the Noise Ordinance amendment.

Speaking about this, Chair-at-large Ann Wheeler said: "The Board of County Supervisors wants to address concerns regarding data center uses through a transparent process. The working group is intended to bring together subject matter experts and those who have expressed concerns to gather accurate information. Community engagement is a key component in this process."

While residents have welcomed this move,  many, including officials, have said that this is just a "first step," and that more work in this area is required. That said, others argued that the noise issue is only an issue in the first place because data centers have been approved in incompatible areas.