Let there be light?

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

As the Alexandria City Council prepared to approve lights at planned tennis courts at T.C. Williams last month, Mayor Bill Euille floated the idea of ending the night football game drought at the high school.

But neighbors, still peeved by how last month’s debate over lighting was conducted, are wary of any new discussions on the topic with city leaders.

More than 40 years have passed since city officials made the decision to eschew lighted athletic fields at T.C. But in that time, lighting technology has changed, said Euille. It has advanced to a point where they are much less intrusive to nearby residents.

While lighting for the planned tennis courts lacks funding, Euille believes the time is right to have a more general discussion about the issue.

“That’s a topic that has been on hold for more than 40 years, and I just think the times have changed, the technology has changed in terms of style of lighting and so forth,” Euille said. “… We ought to revisit that topic. We should have a broader discussion with the community as a whole and decide if we want to make a change. If we decide not to, at least we took the time to revisit it as opposed to letting it continue to languish.”

Residents of the nearby Seminary Hill neighborhood said the original ban on lights at T.C. is still relevant because the city made a new agreement with neighbors in 2007, when it prepared to replace the aging high school. Nancy Jennings, president of the Seminary Hill Association, said it is difficult to predict how her group would feel about Euille’s proposed discussion because it’s so general.

“That within seven years of the agreement the city would go back [on the lights issue] is the part that’s most upsetting to us,” Jennings said. “[We would] be open to talk generalities, but ultimately, it will come down to a case-by-case basis for us. … We do have lights on fields in Seminary Hill, and we’ve supported them. We’ve supported lights at Minnie Howard and lights at Fort Ward Park.”

Frank Putzu, a member of the Seminary Hill Association, was more pointed in his assessment of the prospect of future talks.

“From our perspective, what is there to talk about?” he said. “We have a legally binding agreement that’s six years old, so what is there really to talk about? If the only thing to talk about is the mayor being interested in breaching his own agreement that he voted for, I’m not sure we’re all that interested in having that conversation.”

Putzu said last month’s decision — combined with attempts to revive the idea of athletic lights at T.C. — fly in the face of the city’s efforts to promote community involvement.

“We get lectured all the time about civility and What’s Next Alexandria,” he said. “But if they’re just going to say ‘Bam’ and connive with parks and recreation staff and the school system and aren’t all that interested in what you have to say, what’s the point?”

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