Light fight heads to court

Light fight heads to court
The Francis Hammond Middle School field was scheduled to be revived with artificial turf and lights, but the school’s neighbors worry late-night illumination could be a nuisance. (File photo)

A circuit court judge will decide whether city officials followed zoning laws while pushing through a field and light project at Francis Hammond Middle School earlier this year.

Members of the Seminary Hill Association filed a civil action against city and school officials November 10. The move came days after the board of zoning appeals made official its ruling upholding the planning commission’s decision to grant Alexandria City Public Schools a permit to erect four 60-foot lights on the athletic fields.

The project, which also would replace the upper field’s grass with artificial turf, became a flashpoint after neighbors learned of the proposed athletic lights earlier this year. Nearby residents say adding lights will lower property values. Originally slated for completion in the summer, the project has since been delayed.

While asking the circuit court to overturn the BZA’s findings, the lawsuit also asks for a restraining order against any forward movement on the project until the legal proceedings are settled.

The point isn’t to delay the project or stop it altogether, said Frank Putzu, a neighbor of Francis Hammond and SHA member, but to take city officials to task for not following proper protocol.

“It’s to make sure they follow the rules while they [plan a project],” Putzu said. “It’s to hold [the city] accountable to the same laws as everybody else and what [a court ruling in SHA’s favor] would probably mean is they would have to start again.”

A hearing date for the civil case has not been scheduled.