FAYETTEVILLE -- The City Council on Tuesday adopted some model regulation from the Arkansas Municipal League to deal with noisy data centers that mine cryptocurrency.
Council members voted 6-0 to adopt the changes to city code and pass an emergency clause to put the changes into immediate effect. The proposal will give data centers their own use unit in city code and relegate them to only general industrial zones, which effectively keeps them in the city's industrial park.
The regulations also include several requirements for noise attenuation. Requirements include notifying neighbors within a half-mile radius of where a data center is planned, having a sound study done before and after construction by a third-party acoustic engineer, having mechanical equipment screened on all sides and following the city's noise ordinance.
Data centers are a large group of networked computer servers to store, process and distribute large amounts of data. Digital asset mining facilities are data centers that use a significant amount of power and make continuous humming noises to mine cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency refers to a digital form of currency exchanged through a computer network that is not reliant on any centralized authority, such as a bank.
The state Legislature passed a law this year limiting how local governments can regulate data centers, specifically digital asset mining facilities. However, the law's sponsor, state Rep. Rick McClure, R-Malvern, has acknowledged publicly the noise problems such facilities can cause. Some legislators have called for a special session to readdress the issue.
Several counties, including Sebastian and Benton counties, passed their own regulations on data centers before the state law went into effect Aug. 1. Greenwood adopted regulations about data centers and noise in August, and Springdale is considering similar regulation.
Council member Sarah Moore sponsored the regulations Fayetteville adopted Tuesday, saying she didn't want to see a newly constructed data center cause a disturbance somewhere in the city. She said she added an emergency clause to ensure a center couldn't unexpectedly pop up before the new rules take effect.
City Attorney Kit Williams said the language for the proposal was taken from the Arkansas Municipal League and tailored to the city's code as a way to protect residents from the nuisances of a data mining facility. He encouraged the council to suspend its rules, go through all three readings Tuesday and approve the proposal.
"If we don't get this on the books, then we are exposing ourselves to having one of these cryptocurrency entities located in a very unsatisfactory place in Fayetteville," Williams said.
Council member Teresa Turk expressed concerns that creating a use unit for data centers within city code could send a message that they are welcomed in the city. She initially asked for more information about what other cities have done to address the issue before ultimately supporting the proposal.
"I don't want us to be perceived as putting the welcome mat out," Turk said, "These, even with this new ordinance, will not end up being a good thing for Fayetteville. If they're listening: I hope you don't come."
In other business, the council left on its second reading a proposal to zone about 20 acres near Truckers Drive. The request was to zone the land for multifamily dwellings up to 18 units an acre. The land currently has no zoning because a previous planned zoning district expired in 2011.
The city's resident-led Environmental Action Committee wrote a letter advising the council to reject the request and zone the land for agricultural use instead, saying the land has ecological value. The council will discuss the proposal again Sept. 19.
Council member D'Andre Jones was absent Tuesday.
Fayettevilles City Council met Tuesday and approved:
A $1.8 million contract with APAC-Central in Fayetteville to put traffic lights, add sidewalks and widen lanes at 15th Street and Razorback Road.
A $24,671 contract with Stantec Consulting Services in Austin, Texas, to come up with an historic context statement for the University Heights neighborhood.
Accepting a $100,000 federal grant with a $20,000 city contribution to construct trails at Lake Fayetteville.
A $274,398 contract with SPATCO Energy Solutions in Raleigh, N.C., to rehabilitate the fuel hub at the municipal airport. A state grant will cover $250,000 of the $319,398 total project cost.
Accepting $475,739 federal grant and $475,956 contract with Milestone Construction Co. in Springdale to rehabilitate the wildlife fence around Drake Field.
Accepting a $226,235 federal Drug Task Force grant with the city contributing $60,162.