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University of Illinois Research Park Explores Options for New Data Center

A proposed zoning change in Champaign, Ill., would accommodate a potential new data center for an on-campus technology hub for startup companies and corporate research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Data center
(TNS) — The University of Illinois Research Park is considering building a data center facility on its grounds.

Champaign planning staff have proposed an amendment to the city's zoning ordinance to facilitate this potential project and others that may pop up in the future, while also providing regulations for this kind of use.

The Champaign Plan Commission will consider whether to forward the amendment to the city council with a positive recommendation at its 4 p.m. meeting Wednesday.

The proposed changes create a land use category for "data centers" and designate which zoning districts they are allowed in.

Associate Planner Eric Van Buskirk described data centers as "large, warehouse-scale industrial buildings which house large-scale servers and network infrastructure necessary to the function of high-speed Internet connectivity."

"Data centers tend to be located in cooler climates, in communities with good access to municipal water and electrical infrastructure, and in areas with proximate access to major metropolitan areas," he said.

"Champaign fits these key criteria, and the University of Illinois Research Park is exploring the opportunity to build a data center facility within the park."

Research park officials declined to comment.

In discussing the unique features that distinguish these facilities from similar uses, Van Buskirk noted that data centers may generate "low-grade continuous noise" and do not create the same number of jobs as warehouses or distribution facilities of similar scale.

"In addition, their power and water consumption often require that onsite utility infrastructure be constructed in order to facilitate the continuous operation of the facility," Van Buskirk wrote.

Under the proposed zoning ordinance changes, data centers would be allowed in the light industrial and heavy industrial zoning districts, provided the following conditions are met:

  • The facility is separated by at least 200 feet from areas zoned residential.

  • On-site utility equipment is set back 60 feet from any residential uses.

"It is important to note that there is not any existing industrial zoning currently within the University of Illinois Research Park," Van Buskirk said. "The university will need to initiate a rezoning prior to any data center construction within the Research Park.

"The university has indicated that they plan to submit a rezoning application in June, which will require an additional public hearing at plan commission and subsequent approval by city council."

He told The News-Gazette the Research Park is not in close proximity to a lot of residential property, so the proposed provisions would not necessarily impact a project on this land. He added that the planning department was not thinking of the Research Park alone and took a "citywide approach" when developing the regulations. They also drew inspiration from other communities with high concentrations of data centers.

©2024 The News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.