By David Pendered
To protect the Atlanta BeltLine from unsightly data centers, Atlanta is trying to set some boundaries around their size, proximity and appearance. The move begins as the city and region are emerging as a hotbed for buildings that house computer systems.
Atlanta’s legislation sends a clear message to developers that it would rather they not come around with proposals for data centers along the BeltLine:
- “WHEREAS, data center uses are incompatible with the purposes and intent of the Beltline Overlay District….”
The message is aimed at developers who would capitalize on the city’s emerging market for data centers and seek to locate facilities in coveted parcels along the BeltLine. More than one trade publication portrays metro Atlanta as a destination for these facilities, including this 2018 report from datacenterfrontier.com:
- “Facebook’s plans to build a $750 million data center near Atlanta make it especially clear the region has emerged as the hot new destination for colocation providers and tech firms with big data needs. … Facebook’s decision … adds some hyperscale heat to the rising profile of the Atlanta region, which is already seeing new projects from providers targeting the enterprise market.”
The legislation is now making its way through Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Units. The city’s Zoning Review Board is to consider the paper at one of two meetings in April. The Atlanta City Council is to cast its vote as early as May 6, according to the current schedule.
The pending legislation intends to govern attributes of all data centers established in buildings that are new or converted within 500 feet of the BeltLine corridor.
For starters, fences of razor wire or barbed wire are to be prohibited. Sides of buildings that face the public have to be dressed up by a variety of means, such as artwork or changes in texture and color, according to the legislation.
Mechanical equipment for new buildings is to be located at a site least visible to the public. And it must be concealed from a public right-of-way or park by appropriate fencing or plant material, according to the legislation.
The legislation is moving as Facebook continues to develop its planned 750,000-square foot building in Newton County, at a reported cost of $750 million. Plans to install power lines over a bucolic portion of Morgan County to serve the center are drawing fire from area residents.
Despite the size of the Facebook facility, data centers that are much smaller than Facebook’s are the norm – more in the range of 165,141 square feet, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
This size is the sweet spot of the city’s legislation. The paper would prohibit any data center larger than 300,000 square feet. Buildings with footprints larger than 150,000 would be required to apply for and receive a special use permit. Data centers that aren’t part of a unified development plan must receive a special use permit.
Another provision for new buildings clearly specifies the way it will appear to those who see it:
- “Buildings with façade(s) facing the public right-of-way or the Beltline Corridor shall have architectural articulation and architectural design elements of the façade(s) up to the first three levels of the building or within a minimum height of twenty-four feet as measured from the sidewalk level. Architectural articulation and architectural design elements such as a variety in façade treatment, materials, textures, colors and/or window and door patterns to provide visual interest are allowed.”