Is an agreement, once entered into, forever binding? That’s the question at the heart of the debate surrounding whether city and school officials should add lights to T.C. Williams’ football stadium.
Some contracts are in theory permanent, but most are re-evaluated at set intervals. For instance, although many politicians seem to be elected for life, they actually have to face the voters every few years. Other contracts, like marriage, are supposed to be forever — but divorce laws allow that pact to be broken. Business contracts are binding but can be dissolved by bankruptcy or challenged in court.
The agreement between the City of Alexandria and residents of the Seminary Hill neighborhood back in the 1960s was fair. In exchange for their support in locating Alexandria’s new, large and integrated high school in their neighborhood, residents were promised that the school’s football stadium would not include lights.
Now, almost 50 years later, that original school has been torn down. Its replacement, still bearing the T.C. Williams name, boasts state-of-the-art learning facilities, turf fields, a parking deck — but still no lights on the football field.
We think it’s time to revisit the agreement and find a compromise that works for T.C. Williams students and Seminary Hill residents alike.
Nearby residents have valid concerns about light and noise pollution, as well as crowds of people descending on their neighborhood. It is disingenuous of those in favor of adding lights to trivialize the real inconvenience that night events will cause Seminary Hill residents.
Though technological advances in lighting and sound systems will help, they will not prevent all noise and light from reaching nearby houses. Nor will simply closing their drapes, as City Councilor Del Pepper once unfortunately recommended, negate the problem.
The key to finding a middle ground that works for both sides will be setting a firm cap on the number of night events that can be held at T.C. Williams. Many neighbors seem receptive to the school hosting five or six home football games at night per year. Agreement could probably be reached on letting the field be used for a specified, but small, amount of additional night events per year.
What neighbors rightly fear is the “slippery slope:” Once the lights are in, city officials may change their minds about restrictions and simply try to maximize use of what will be a sizable investment. That would constitute a betrayal and would be unacceptable.
A good process seems to have been set in motion. There will be several opportunities for resident input and no firm timetable for when this should be resolved.
In the end, if the project is green-lighted, it needs to include firm caps on both the amount and duration of events. And it needs to include a specified time period after which the agreement will be re-examined.
Although contracts are binding, most don’t last forever.