Our View: Lights at T.C. Williams would be wrong

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The condemned press box at Parker-Gray Stadium is one of the components of the stadium modernization plan. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)
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Something that’s legal can still be unethical. For instance, it’s generally wrong to break a promise, even when it’s not against the law to do so.

This distinction often seems lost in our era of societal and political strife. Acting in a technically legal but questionable manner is uncivil behavior. Sadly, in recent years, we have seen several instances of our local government operating in this manner.
Whether because of ideology, as in our city’s ongoing war on cars, or at the altar of development, promises made yesterday increasingly seem to be subject to being broken in the Alexandria of today.

When residents of King Street above the Masonic Temple bought their homes, it likely never occurred to them to wonder if the city might someday take their on-street parking spaces away from them. Yet that’s what happened in 2014 so bike lanes could be built. The resulting lanes appear to be underutilized. So residents lost part of what they contracted for when they bought their homes – and what was gained?

When residents on Watson Street in the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens neighborhood bought their townhomes, they did so with the understanding that vacant land around them would be developed with similar density. This was clearly spelled out in that neighborhood’s small area plan.

Yet when the developer petitioned to dramatically increase the density of an adjacent proposed project, council wielded its magic pencil to rewrite the small area plan – and many Watson Street residents were left feeling that their city had pulled a fast one on them.

Which brings us to the city’s push to install lights on the football field at T.C. Williams High School. At face value, it seems reasonable to want a lighted stadium at the city’s only public high school. Except for this: the promise to never install lights on a stadium behind T.C. Williams dates back more than 50 years – and has twice been reaffirmed, most recently in 2012.

The promise to never install lights was made in 1965 to residents in the surrounding, mostly black neighborhood who had been displaced when the city took their land to build the original T.C. Williams High School. These residents were wary of having a large school erected next to their new homes and the no-lights promise was a concession made by the city.

Alexandria’s city managers, school superintendents, mayors and councils for the past five decades have honored this promise. Perhaps not surprisingly, the present regime appears poised to break this pledge, as money for lights is in the schools’ capital budget and the proposal is making its way through the city’s approval process.

Proponents say the no-lights promise is not legally binding and they can back out by amending the development special use permit. They say it’s okay to move forward since a decision to install lights could be defended if challenged in court. Sorry, but that’s the mindset of a bully – and it’s a horrible way to do business. 

The city needs to find  its way to a lighted stadium that doesn’t include breaking its word.

Ultimately, a two high school solution increasingly seems necessary to resolve Alexandria’s secondary school capacity problem. Solve the issue by building one lighted stadium
elsewhere in the city to serve both schools.

Or, take a field being otherwise used and repurpose it into a football stadium, whether it’s for one high school or two. Possible sites for a football stadium include the soccer fields adjacent to Simpson Stadium Park, the large field between George Washington Middle School and the Braddock Road Metro station, Luckett Field off Duke Street or the
softball field behind the Land Rover dealership on Duke Street.
With creative thinking, a lighted stadium can be achieved. Siting it somewhere other than T.C. Williams would be forward thinking in anticipation of a second Alexandria high
school. 

City leaders need to remember that just because you can do something
doesn’t mean you should.

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