A new zoning ordinance ( adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on March 23, 2021, significantly changes data center development in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The ordinance includes a new definition and specific design and building size regulations for data centers. Previously, data centers were interpreted to be telecommunications facilities under a longstanding interpretation. Under the new regulations, the size of the data center determines where the use is permitted — by right, versus by special exception — in the conventional zoning districts. Other new regulations relate to the location of the accessory equipment necessary to operate data centers.

The new regulations governing data centers in Fairfax County are summarized below:

  • Permitted use, if shown on the development plan, in the most commercial planned districts.
  • Permitted use in certain conventional commercial districts if less than 40,000 square feet; permitted by special exception if more than 40,000 square feet.
  • Permitted use in certain light industrial districts (I-2 and I-3) if less than 80,000 square feet; permitted by special exception if more than 80,000 square feet.
  • Permitted by right in the I-4, I-5 and I-6 districts with no restriction on size except for compliance with the bulk regulations of the particular zoning district.
  • Flexibility to exceed the commercial and industrial district size limitations if located in an existing building.
  • All equipment necessary for cooling, ventilating or otherwise operating the data center, to include emergency generators, for any data center constructed in the commercial and industrial districts must be located within an enclosed building.