Letter to the Editor: City unilaterally broke a promise

Letter to the Editor: City unilaterally broke a promise
(Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

To the editor:

On Oct. 13, city council voted 6-1 to approve lights and other upgrades to Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School. As those who have followed the debate surrounding the stadium upgrades know, the lights have been the most controversial aspect of the proposal.

While there are many good reasons to favor the upgrade, including the lights, those who favored the upgrade should realize that this comes with substantial, real costs to the largely African American community directly adjacent to the stadium, a fact that appeared to be little appreciated by most of those who spoke in favor of the upgrade at the council public hearing. These costs include a likely drop in property values, increased noise, trash, traffic and general erosion of the quality of life in that neighborhood.

A promise by the city and school board was made when the first T.C. Williams High School was erected in 1965, re-enforced and documented in 2004 in the developmental special use permit when the school expanded and respected in 2014 when lights were installed on the tennis courts. The promise was that no permanent stadium lighting would be installed on any athletic high school field in consideration of the quality of life of the adjoining neighborhoods. That promise has now unilaterally been broken.

This is not the first time that this distinguished African American community, whose roots in Alexandria go back for at least 150 years, has had to bear significant costs that benefit other city residents. All residents of Alexandria would do well to read with care the Alexandria Times article “The history beneath T.C. Williams” that ran on the front page of the Oct. 11 edition. The treatment of this community, as described in the article, tells a story in which no decent citizen of Alexandria can take pride.

While it is true that city council also approved conditions added in response to neighborhood concerns, including the installation of a fence, the limitation of event hours and the creation of a forum for discussion and conflict resolution between the neighbors and Alexandria City Public Schools, it remains clear that the city government has unilaterally broken a promise to some of its citizens. This historic African-American community will again unfairly bear costs for the benefit of others – a fact that should be noted as a cautionary tale by all Alexandria citizens.

More than two millennia ago, the Greek historian Thucydides wrote, “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must.”

Closer to our own day, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Considering the Oct. 13 city council vote, it appears that despite its “deep blue” liberal reputation, Thucydides is closer to the mark than King in describing our city.

But all may not (yet) be lost. Some of the speakers on Saturday put forth constructive suggestions for ways to compensate in a tangible manner the affected community, or to explore alternative sites for a stadium for city-wide use, but they were ignored. There is also to be considered a lawsuit filed in August by the affected neighborhood residents to block this project, but no trial date has been set.

I therefore urge that the city government and ACPS explore alternatives to the Parker-Gray Stadium project, with full participation by residents of the neighborhood affected. This is surely a better option than a lawsuit. Perhaps we can prove King right after all.

-Charles Ziegler, Alexandria