Our View: Compromise on T.C. lights

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Stadium lights at Witter Recreational Fields off of Duke Street. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)
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History is not inherently good or bad. In Alexandria, we rightly celebrate our storied colonial era, preserve the cobblestone streets that remain and continue to discover new treasures such as the excavation at the Garcia house on Pitt Street that turned up numerous artifacts earlier this year.

Our maritime history is also rich, as Hal Hardaway extensively described in his My View last week, “Let’s better celebrate our waterfront.” The arrival of the tall ship Providence next year will enable us to more exhaustively explore our aquatic past.

Some of our history is not so grand, but that story needs to be told too, as it’s part of the whole. The Manumission Tours started by Councilor John Chapman help fill a void, as they tell the story of how African Americans, enslaved and free, have fared in Alexandria.

The page one story in this week’s Alexandria Times, “The history beneath T.C. Williams,” attempts to fill another vacuum by explaining why so many people are upset about the city’s plan to put lights on the football field at T.C. Williams High School. This is not a case of NIMBYism, but of a community – descended from the city’s first free, black property owners – that by any objective measure has long been mistreated.

That history is why the city’s uncompromising approach on the stadium project to date is not just upsetting, it’s insulting.

To recap, the idea of lighting the T.C. field was first floated a few years ago, soon after the no lights pledge had been restated in a 2013 revised DSUP for new tennis courts.

At the time proponents talked of the limited nuisance that would come from a handful of home, Friday night football games every year. What could be the harm in that?

Fast forward to the present: the Alexandria Planning Commission last week recommended approval by a 5-2 vote for lights on the field, usage of the field until 10 p.m. seven days a week, 365 days a year for any sport. The field could also be rented to non-T.C. Williams teams on weekends.

If city council approves the proposal as it stands, we think this would be the greatest betrayal in the post-Civil Rights era in Alexandria.

Why won’t the city strive for actual compromise on this issue? Real compromise usually means neither side gets all of what it wants. Designating a city employee to field angry calls from upset neighbors is not our idea of finding middle ground.

Yes, this is essentially a binary choice: either lights will be erected on the field or they won’t. But we see two possible venues for compromise even at this late date, one larger and one more limited.

First, the city could and should put this project on hold until it figures out the overall high school capacity issue. T.C. Williams is bursting at the seams, and it’s still not clear whether a second high school is going to be needed to resolve overcrowding.

We have a new superintendent of schools, a city council that will contain at least four new members come January and school board elections next month. Let them figure out the capacity issue, then tackle whether a new, city-wide stadium that could be used by multiple high schools is feasible before moving ahead with lighting the T.C. field.

Or, if a majority of council believes this train is too far gone to re-route, at least engage in meaningful compromise.

If, by Title IX, the endtime on usage of the field has to be the same every night, make it earlier rather than later. If the lights were turned off by 8:30 p.m. every night, disruption to nearby neighbors would be greatly diminished. A football game that starts at 6 p.m. would be finished by 8:30. We would have Friday night football in Alexandria and the impact on neighbors would be lessened.

Compromise means no one gets all of what they want. The city owes it to the Woods neighborhood to find a way.

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