Your Views: No authority to co-locate schools, housing

Your Views: No authority to co-locate schools, housing
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein

To the editor:

The Alexandria School Board is likely to vote Feb. 4 on plans for the redevelopment of the Minnie Howard Campus. Under consideration is building adult housing on school grounds – similar to what was being investigated for Douglas MacArthur and George Mason Elementary Schools. Hopefully, co-location will be taken off the table once and for all at ACPS schools.

No other jurisdiction in Virginia has housing on school grounds, likely in part because they do not have the legal authority to do so. Neither does Alexandria.

Our Commonwealth is a “Dillon Rule” state. This principle, adopted in 1896, holds that local governments have limited authority and can pass ordinances generally only where the General Assembly has granted clear authority.

The city has yet to publicly cite the authority it believes would permit it to build housing on school grounds – likely because no such authority exists.

ACPS representatives recently revealed the city had not requested an official legal opinion from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring nor had it consulted with the state Department of Education, whose approval would be needed for this scheme. These are all steps that should have been taken before tax dollars were spent promoting this concept.

Alexandria’s high school is projected to add 25% more students within the next five to 10 years. Our schools are overcrowded. The buildings and their grounds are heavily used for after school activities, including sports and recreation. Why then allocate the limited space on the Minnie Howard campus for housing?

Why does our city government continue to push this idea of housing adults on school grounds? Presumably to fulfill our city’s “commitment” to the Washington Council of Governments to accept 10 times our fair share of pre-pandemic projections for population growth in our region.

The COG has no legal authority to compel our city to use tax dollars to bring in tens of thousands of new residents when our infrastructure – schools, roads, sewers and storm drains – cannot keep up with the population we already have. But our city government is proceeding anyway.

That tax dollars continue to be used to push this proposal despite opposition across our community and questions about its legality tells us all we need to know. It is time for a city government that is more transparent, more open to diverse views, more mindful of the taxpayers’ money and more focused on quality of life of the people who already live here.

-Darryl Nirenberg, Alexandria