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Groton data center pause is the right move

Sometimes it makes sense to take a deep breath and reevaluate before proceeding. That is what the Town of Groton Planning and Zoning Commission smartly did June 14 when it unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on considering approval of any large data centers in town, defined as complexes of 5,000-square-feet or bigger.

A group operating as NE Edge LLC generated considerable controversy in town with its proposal to develop multiple data centers on about 150 acres of land south of Interstate 95 off Hazelnut Hill and Flanders roads. Residents raised numerous concerns, including about the proposed location that would have displaced forested land.

Facing a citizen rebellion, the Town Council voted last March to end discussions with businessman Thomas Quinn about the proposal.

To try to attract data centers, the Connecticut legislature approved various incentives, among them waiving local property taxes. That leaves it to towns and cities to negotiate revenue deals in lieu of those taxes. The council’s March vote ended those talks with NE Edge.

The council had previously signed a host agreement with a group proposing such a facility on Route 117, but that LLC has not announced any development. Any site plan application would be subject to the moratorium.

Things have proceeded in Groton in a cart-before-the-horse manner. Speculators have proposed the projects on available land, betting that once they get approval, they can partner with someone to build them.

The P&Z is taking the right approach to consider if such large-scale data centers should be allowed at all and, if so, where are the appropriate parcels and what guidelines must the projects follow. Working with a consultant, they will use the time to consider the environmental and health impacts of these facilities and determine exactly how they should be defined in the land-use regulations, if they are allowed.

Groton, which benefits from a large tax base, certainly has the luxury of taking such a pause. But other towns should also act prospectively and get regulations in place before data center developers come knocking.

As stated in a prior editorial, it would make the most sense to locate these facilities in former industrial sites, brownfields, existing industrial parks, or by repurposing warehouses.

Given modern technological demands, these centers are necessary. Their routers, servers, switches and storage systems store massive amounts of data and provide for our age of instant communication and access to information — and for seeing people do ridiculous things on YouTube and TikTok.

This is a rapidly growing industry and Connecticut is right to pursue it. But the legislature should reexamine the incentives and consider amendments that would encourage building large data centers in places that make sense, even as local communities examine the land-use rules governing them.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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