GROTON – The town Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday night to place a one-year moratorium on large data centers, giving the commission time to decide on how best to regulate the businesses.
The moratorium will put a halt to all applications for data centers larger than 5,000 square feet, and is meant to give the commission a year to write regulations for the centers – which Groton Zoning Official Peter Zvingilas said last year would be considered a “telecommunication facility” in the town’s zoning regulations, which are allowed with a site plan approval.
Proposals for large-scale data centers have become a major issue for Groton residents, who have voiced their concerns regarding potential noise and light pollution, air pollution from diesel generators used for “peak shaving,” and water pollution from runoff.
Residents who spoke at the public hearing Tuesday night supported the moratorium, citing similar concerns about air pollution from diesel generators, and about the potential for runoff that could pollute Groton’s drinking water supply.
In March, the Groton Town Council rejected a tax agreement with NE Edge for two data centers south of Interstate 95 over what town officials said were concerns about a “rushed process” to come to an agreement for a payment in lieu of property taxes. In 2021, the General Assembly exempted data centers from sales and property taxes for the first 20 years of their operation in an effort to lure more of the business to the state.
In a memo to Groton Assistant Planning Director Deborah Jones, Zvingilas suggested that the moratorium should only apply to data centers of “significant size,” to avoid inadvertently stopping modifications or maintenance to smaller data centers used for government operations or “normal business use.”
“The concern was that definition could easily apply to the servers down at town hall and prohibit changing out a server or adding another server, as well as other small businesses,” Jones said.
Jones told the commission during the meeting that the regulation would only apply to the Town of Groton, not Groton Long Point, Noank or the City of Groton – so it won’t impact Pfizer and its data center, or Electric Boat.
Jones told CT Examiner that the regulation would not impact any negotiations between the town council and a data center developer about a potential host municipality fee agreement, but it would block any application for the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve a data center project.
Zvingilas wrote that he researched similar zoning regulations around the country and found that they commonly exempted data centers up to 5,000 square feet, but he said the commission had the discretion to change that threshold as it saw fit.
The commission weighed the 5,000 square foot minimum, briefly considering different definitions for smaller data centers and “hyper scale” centers like the one proposed by NE Edge, but settled on using 5,000 square feet as the benchmark for the moratorium while they worked out full regulations for data centers.
The commission will meet again on Wednesday night to review pre-applications for regulations changes governing data centers, as well as short-term rentals and marijuana.
In a memo to the commission, Town Planner Jon Reiner said that data centers may be “physically indistinguishable” from many light industrial or commercial uses from the outside, but they have their own distinct concerns around electricity and water use, noise, safety and security needs, and low density of employment.
Reiner said the commission will need to consider if large data centers should be allowed at all, and if so, where, and what size of center would trigger a review by the commission.
He said that the Horsley Witten Group, which the town hired to advise the commission on the three issues being discussed Wednesday, recommended limiting data centers to light industrial zones, and regulating data centers that are 10,000 square feet or larger.