Wallingford council postpones vote on data centers

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WALLINGFORD — The Town Council postponed voting on a host agreement Tuesday night that would allow data centers to be built on undeveloped properties and farmland on the east side of town.

Attorney and former state senator Len Fasano, who is representing Boston-based tech firm Gotspace Data Partners, asked for a special council meeting next week on the host agreement, which would allow the tech company to build data centers in Wallingford at four potential locations.

Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said Wednesday he could not get a quorum of six of the nine councilors to agree to meet next week.

A data center houses network computers for central storage, management and dissemination of information.

Janis M. Small, Wallingford’s legal counsel, shared a draft of the agreement Friday afternoon with the Town Council, along with an updated list of the properties under consideration and an acoustical sound study by an independent firm.

Small said that concerns for the town are noise generation and site entrances and exits on residential roads. The Gotspace data centers would house telecommunications infrastructure and operate 24 hours a day.

After more than three hours of discussion and public comments Tuesday, council members were leaning toward not approving the host agreement that night.

Some wanted more time to tie up details, some wanted to address the noise and traffic concerns, and some stated they were against approving anything before land use permit approvals.

“I’m definitely interested,” Councilor Tom Laffin said, “but I’m not sure that it’s going to happen tonight, and I think if we push it too much, it won’t (happen tonight), and then it’ll be gone … For me, it’s really most important about the sound.”

Councilors hesitant

Councilor Chris Shortell said he found himself on the other side of the proposal.

He said he found it “disturbing” that the council was being told it would have to wait to learn information about the project until the building applications had worked their way through the Planning and Zoning and the Inland Wetlands commissions.

“We have to vote this in, to find out all these other things,” he said. “… This is the point where we get to decide if this is a good thing or not for the town.”

Councilor Christina Tatta said she also wanted to wait for more information.

“It’s something that the town is committed to for 30 years,” she said. “It’s a serious decision. If I don’t feel like this is the final product, I don’t really feel comfortable voting on it until it’s finalized.”

Tatta asked what the property and personal property tax would be if not for the tax incentive deal the town would get.

Councilor Jason Zandri shared in the remote meeting’s comment section that a $50 million building assessed at a 70 percent valuation comes to $35 million. Taxed at the Wallingford mill rate of 28.52 mills, it would generate $998,200 in taxes.

If Wallingford officials enter into a host agreement, it could generate up to $1.5 million in new tax revenue annually per building, with as many as five buildings on one site.

Thomas Quinn, one of Gotspace’s owners, said one site would generate about $6 million a year.

“We haven’t talked about this, but all of our contracts in other towns include final mile pricing for the electric benefit to the town,” he said. “The actual profit of the final mile is actually more than the host fee agreement.”

Any site plans released so far are conceptual, and the agreement doesn’t limit the number of buildings on a particular site or their location within the property.

Noise, neighbors

The four potential locations include 57 acres of land behind Hilton Garden Inn near Interstate 91 and Route 68, which is owned by three parties; 205 acres behind North Farms Road bordering Meriden, Tankwood Road and Route 15, also owned by three parties; 138 acres located north and east of North Farms Reservoir near Northrop Road, eight properties — including 80 acres at Erin Isle Farm, 965 Northrop Road — and 45 acres at 10 Technology Drive, the site of an existing building off Research Parkway and Thorpe Avenue.

Erin Isle Farm is an 80-acre former dairy farm that was established in 1916 by Thomas Wall, is currently owned by his children Kathryn J. Wall, Thomas M. Wall and Terrance J. Wall.

Representatives of the Wall family were not available for comment on the future of the property Wednesday.

For the data centers to be built, Gotspace would still need to go through the town’s land use boards for permit approvals.

Gotspace would need to seek Inland Wetlands approval for North Farms campus site entrances on Sterling and Tower drives. Fasano also raised a concern about encroachment on the wetlands.

After receiving a wetlands permit, Planning and Zoning would need to sign off on site plans, including placement and size of the buildings, as well as address noise and traffic generation from site activities.

The two biggest concerns put forth by Small were noise and traffic generation.

The town consulted with Cavanaugh Tocci, a Sudbury, Massachusetts-based acoustical engineering firm, which provided a report that concluded it would not be sufficient to solely rely on the town’s noise ordinance to protect the residential areas from noise and vibration.

“A 10 decibel increase is a doubling of the sound,” she said. “These are real numbers, it’s a real concern, and that is why we view that the noise ordinance would not be sufficient to deal with this.”

Past clashes over excessive noise and vibration between residents and their commercially operating neighbors were touched on during the discussion.

Zandri brought up a 2016 conflict between Thurston Foods and neighbors on Padens Court who complained about loud refrigeration trucks running all night.

“It might not be acceptable for the people that live in those areas to suddenly have the decibel level increased all the time on an average basis another 5 decibels,” Zandri said. “Clearly inside of the limits, (but) still much noisier than it used to be.”

Jeff Kohan, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission who attended the meeting as member of the public, brought up another neighbors versus noise complaint.

In 2015, Wallingford had considered legal action against Live Nation, which operates the Oakdale Theatre, claiming the performance venue continually violated the town’s noise ordinance by holding concerts in the lobby instead of the theater.

Gotspace has not yet fully agreed, but the town wants to prohibit entering and exiting the site from North Farms, Tankwood and Williams roads.

If any other residential streets abut a property used by the data centers, the town has to approve access from those streets.

Gated emergency entrances would be on North Farms and Tankwood roads for emergency access only.

Time factor stressed

Fasano said Quinn, of Gotspace, is talking to businesses interested in becoming tenants for the data centers, but didn’t say what companies, while saying that timing is an issue.

While Wallingford is an attractive town, there are other towns being considered, Quinn said.

“We do have interested parties,” he said. “I am working constantly on it. They would like to come to Wallingford ...We’re also going to need to get the utility agreement done immediately after the hosting agreement. Those are the necessary documents to be able to entice someone to come.”

Quinn said the size of the properties is a top consideration.

“Where you see a Facebook (data) center, these campuses are typically 80, to 100, to 120 acres,” he said, “Why? They want the privacy, they want the security, and they may need room for expansion, but that would be a planning board discretion, at some point in the future.”

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

New conceptual plan of the North Farms data center campus in Wallingford.
Erin Isle Farm, 965 Northrop Road, Wallingford.
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