A startup tech company wants to develop data centers at five locations across Connecticut, including Wallingford, but some government officials have questioned whether the company is pursuing local permissions in the right order.
The Wallingford Town Council approved an agreement last week with Gotspace Data Partners LLC, a Groton-based company with its business registration in Boston, the first step in bringing data centers to the rural east side of town.
A data center houses a network of computers for central storage, management and dissemination of information — the place where information stored in “the cloud” is actually kept.
The Gotspace data centers in Wallingford would house telecommunications infrastructure and operate 24 hours a day.
In addition to Wallingford, Gotspace is looking to build data centers in Groton, Norwich, Griswold and Bozrah, according to its website.
Wallingford, Bozrah, Groton and Norwich have a municipal public electric utility. Although some of Griswold is served by CL&P, the connected borough of Jewett City has a public electric utility that serves Griswold.
Norwich has not executed a host fee agreement yet, and Norwich’s City Planner Deanna Rhodes said Tuesday that she has asked Gotspace to remove a conceptual map from its website showing a potential development because it's not
approved by the city and doesn't comply with local regulations.
“That location, that they have an agreement on with the owner, is not zoned for that use,” Rhodes said. “It’s also not an allowed use in the adjacent zone, so it would require text and zone amendments prior to even going through any approval process.”
The conceptual map depicts a site at 328 Plain Hill Road, near the Bog Meadow Reservoir, which is in a residential zone and adjacent to the business park zone where data centers are not an allowed use either, she said.
She said that she feels the map is “falsely representing” that Gotspace has approvals with Norwich city officials.
She also questioned the use of conceptual plans while courting municipalities to sign host fee agreements before the site plans have been approved by planning and zoning officials.
“It's pretty presumptuous, at this point, without working with the city at all, with no applications for even any amendments at this point,” she said.
Rhodes also predicted issues with placement from neighborhood residents.
“If it got out to the public that lives in that area, I'm not sure that they would be super supportive of it,” she said, “and probably it would be detrimental to (Gotspace) when they would want to come forward for a zone change, because they're already making an assumption. I think that assumption of putting it there, and putting it on their website, was inappropriate.”
Thomas Quinn, Gotspace owner, said Tuesday via text message that the company is “working on support for local issues” and hopes to “have this done soon and will have more to offer.” He did not return a call for further comment.Agreements signed
The issues in Norwich notwithstanding, Gotspace is making progress in its other proposed locations in addition to securing the host agreement with Wallingford.
Griswold’s Board of Selectmen authorized First Selectman Todd Babbitt to sign a host agreement March 23.
The proposed locations in Griswold are both near Interstate 395. One site is 160 acres between Voluntown Road (Route 138) and Preston Road (Route 164) and the other is 376 acres spanning both sides of the highway north of Hopeville Road, near Bishop Crossing Road and the Plainfield town line.
Attorney William Sweeney, representing Gotspace, reviewed the conceptual plans with Griswold’s Planning and Zoning Commission on April 12, along with James Rossman who said he was responsible for site aspects of Gotspace’s data center developments, according to meeting minutes.
Sweeney said that because Griswold was one of the first communities to sign the host agreement, the town is considered one of, if not the top, contender for data center development in the state.
Griswold PZC commissioner Peter Zvingilas asked if data centers are allowed under the current zoning regulations.
Griswold Town Planner Mario Tristany said yes, and that he had prepared a draft text amendment to address data centers. He added that Griswold’s land use attorney, Mark Branse, had reviewed the existing zoning regulations and determined that data centers would fit in as “offices,” the meeting minutes stated.
Babbitt said during the meeting that the town has been working on the data center projects since 2018 in a process that was somewhat dragged out due to COVID-19.
The Groton Town Council unanimously resolved to enter a host fee agreement April 6. The fees — which act as a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes since data centers are tax exempt thanks to a new state law — are the same as in Wallingford, upwards of $1.5 million per building.
According to the Gotspace website, there's sufficient power available for five 32-megawatt facilities within the two proposed Groton campuses.
One site would be on 207 acres off Route 117 near the Pohegnut Reservoir, and the other would be on 173 acres off Flanders Road at a site southwest of the Interstate 95 overpass, according to a map on the town website.
John Burt, Groton town manager, said via email Tuesday that data centers are allowed under the current zoning regulations for each site, and that there are some residences nearby.
“The main concerns would be to ensure there's no potential for harm to the environment,” Burt said, “and that noise is mitigated to ensure neighbors will continue to enjoy their homes.”
The council asked many questions about any environmental hazards, noise and went through the host agreement in detail, he said.
Bozrah residents authorized the Board of Selectmen to sign a host fee agreement with Gotspace at a town meeting April 21.
The proposed location in Bozrah is on 147.8 acres off Bozrah Street and Haughton Road, near state Route 2 and Fitchville Pond.
At Bozrah Board of Selectmen meeting June 15, the agreement was still under consideration.
According to the meeting minutes, Second Selectman Bill Ballinger said that the town’s Planning and Zoning officials must decide if they will allow the property to be a floating zone, and Selectman Glenn Pianka said they should have another question and answer session with Gotspace.
Bozrah First Selectman Carl Zorn did not return a request for comment Tuesday.