Atlanta BeltLine to data centers: Please stay away

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 BeltLine, west of North Avenue

Atlanta is taking steps to curb the development of data centers along the Atlanta BeltLine as the region emerges as a hotbed of the computer equipment centers. Credit: David Pendered

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.

Atlanta BeltLine, near Maddox Park

Atlanta is seeking to curb the development of data centers along the Atlanta BeltLine, including along stretches in southwest Atlanta may be attractive to data center developers. Credit: David Pendered

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.”

 

Facebook, Newton County data center

Facebook is building in Newton County a data center of 750,000 square feet, which is more than four times as large as the average data center as reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Credit: facebook.com

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

6 replies
  1. Avatar
    Teague Buchanan says:

    How would this affect existing data centers or the ones under construction already (i.e. SW corridor)? What about the conduit that was laid specifically to attract high tech?Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Chris Johnston says:

    The City of Atlanta has nothing to worry about from data centers. Data center owners want inexpensive land, ready access to large electricity supplies from transmission lines, ready access to multiple fiber optic supplies, low crime rates – all things that the City of Atlanta does not offer.
    Sleep well in your beds, you are safe.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    JWK1957 says:

    As was stated before, datacenters need only (3) things. Cheap Land, Cheap Power and Fiber Optic connectivity. They have the absolute minimal amount of staff necessary to troubleshoot server outages and downtime. Any city or region that offers tax incentives might as well just put the money in a bag and hand it to Georgia Power…that is the only entity that benefits. Oh, and of course, the development partnership group that got the land cheap, and paid off the politicians accordingly.Report

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] than the 300,000 square foot maximum size for a new data center near the BeltLine, as described in legislation pending before the Atlanta City Council. The council is slated to vote on the proposal as early as next […]Report

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