Groton to Consider Moratorium on Data Center Development to Allow for New Regulation


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GROTON – The Planning and Zoning Commission is looking to place a moratorium on new data centers to give the town time to write regulations for the centers.

Two weeks after the Groton Town Council decided to stop negotiating an agreement with NE Edge that would have allowed data centers on property just south of Interstate 95, the Planning and Zoning Commission decided to pursue a 12-month moratorium to write new rule that would distinguish data centers from “telecommunication facilities,” in the town regulations.

The commission will review an application at its April 26 meeting, and will have to set a public hearing before approving it. It could take several months to go through the process of approving the moratorium. 

But it is expected to be in place before any new host municipality fee agreements for data centers could be approved by the town council, which has been reluctant to approve another agreement anyway. 

Groton Zoning Official Peter Zvingilas wrote a letter in March 2021 informing Thomas Quinn – then with data center developer GotSpace – that “data centers” are not listed as a permitted use in the town zoning regulations, so they would be considered a “telecommunication facility.” Those facilities are allowed with a site plan approval from the Planning and Zoning commission.

Members of the commission disagreed with Zvingilas’s ruling and were concerned that it didn’t give them enough ability to regulate issues like noise or large diesel generators that a data center would use for “peak shaving,” which have been sources of public concern with NE Edge’s proposal.

Commission members said they intended to make more specific regulations for those concerns by defining data centers in its regulations – something members said they wanted to complete before receiving an application for a data center

Commissioner Kevin Fiftal, who said he has worked on the processing side of large, “hyperscale” data centers in his job, said it will be important for the commission to make sure its moratorium distinguished between smaller data centers – like Pfizer’s in-house data center – and larger standalone data centers like Gotspace and NE Edge proposed.

“It’s kind of like saying a chicken coop – because it has chickens and eggs – is the same as the world’s largest restaurant,” Fiftal said. “A chicken coop could be allowed in a district, but the world’s largest restaurant should not be just because it sells chicken and eggs. The scale is just so different.”