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Atlanta Considers Banning Data Centers from Beltline, Transit Stops

Proposed legislation would prohibit data center development along the 22-mile Beltline trail loop and from within a half mile of transit centers, including MARTA stations and BRT stops. Existing data centers would be unaffected.

Atlanta City Council will consider whether to add data centers to the growing list of developments and businesses banned along the popular Beltline trail loop.

Councilmembers Jason Dozier and Matt Westmoreland introduced bills this week to prohibit data center development along the 22-mile loop of multi-use trails and within a half-mile of transit centers, including MARTA rail stations and bus rapid transit (BRT) stops.

The legislation mirrors similar bans on new storage facilities, gas stations and drive-thru restaurants within the Beltline overlay district, which city leaders said should foster pedestrian-focused developments.

“For every data center that we build, an apartment building or commercial building or grocery store is not being built,” Dozier said. “... We want to create these spaces that have people walking, biking and taking transit. Data centers don’t really meet that intent.”

Effectively warehouses filled with computer servers, data centers have recently faced increased scrutiny from lawmakers and residents as metro Atlanta amasses a prolific roster of these gigantic facilities. Since 2023, data center construction in metro Atlanta has increased 211 percent, which is the fastest among major data center markets across the country, according to data from real estate services firm CBRE.

Data center developers have called demand for more server storage space “insatiable,” especially with the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence. While these data storage farms power our online lives, Westmoreland said their location matters.

“I understand we need data centers and we need more of them — just not right here,” he said of the Beltline and near transit stops.

If this legislation is adopted, existing data centers in these areas will be unaffected, although they may be prohibited from expanding.

The largest such facility near the Beltline is by Qualified Technology Services (QTS) along Jefferson Street, near the Beltline Westside Trail. The data center predates the popular mixed-use trail but has undergone multiple expansions during the past 15-plus years — sometimes receiving hefty property tax incentives from local development authorities.

As part of its latest expansion, QTS faced strong pushback for requesting a $45 million tax break from the Development Authority of Fulton County, despite construction already being underway. The request was later withdrawn.

The authority, which recently rebranded as Develop Fulton, has provided tax incentives to multiple data center projects, facing criticism given the sector’s rapid growth. Its board in January also approved a $10 million tax break to X Corp., formerly known as Twitter, for computer services at the QTS data center.

When asked about the potential data center ban, Develop Fulton spokesperson Daniella Gutierrez said, “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to evaluating economic development opportunities.”

Dozier said the recent controversies over data center-related tax incentives informed his “desire to see the city do a stronger job of keeping data centers under control in terms of where they get built and how they get built.”

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have suspended a statewide sales tax break program for new data centers. The bill’s sponsors said the incentive program isn’t giving the state much financial return on its multimillion-dollar investment.

The legislation was also influenced by Georgia Power’s recent request for regulators to approve huge amounts of new electricity-generating capacity — mostly powered by fossil fuels — mainly due to the vast number of data center projects across the state. Georgia Power executives have said data centers are responsible for roughly 80 percent of the demand crunch it says it is facing. The Georgia Public Service Commission voted last month to greenlight most of the additions Georgia Power requested.

Kemp said a suspension would be abrupt, especially since the state Legislature two years ago extended the program until 2031. He added that the reversal risked “undermining the investments made by high-technology data center operators, customers and other stakeholders in reliance on the recent extension, and inhibiting important infrastructure and job development.”

Dozier said there are light industrial projects that could fit along the Beltline or near transit stops, but he said data centers’ utility needs and the few jobs they create make them a poor fit.

“We want to be thoughtful about preserving that light industrial use in several different parts of our Beltline corridor and near transit,” he said. “... But I think data centers are just in a class of their own.”

©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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