WASHINGTON — A decades-old agreement between the City of Alexandria, Virginia, and residents who live near T.C. Williams High School to never build stadium lights is being tossed away as the school works to modernize its athletic facility.
The city council voted 6-1 Saturday in favor of a plan that would allow the school to build lights around its football stadium, something it hasn’t had since opening in 1965. Only outgoing Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg voted against the plan.
The agreement between the neighborhood and the school system was forged in the 1960s when Alexandria seized land through eminent domain that had been settled by newly freed black residents at the conclusion of the Civil War. But city leaders argue it’s not a legally binding deal, even though that’ll be settled by a judge after a lawsuit was filed in August.
Alexandria City Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings says the updates are needed with enrollment at the school having increased to 4,000 students in recent years, and expected to hit 5,000 over the next two years.
“More than ever, our students need field time and space for practice as well as for games,” Hutchings argued at Saturday’s city council meeting. “And we need time to play our games at times when parents as well as students are able to have the chance to attend, just like students at other high schools, without having their games cut short due to the sun going down. To do that we need to have lights on our field.”
Hutchings also argued T.C. Williams was the only high school in the region, and one of just five in the state, that doesn’t have lighted fields.
Donnie Wintermute, a longtime city resident and real estate broker who lives near the school, derided the idea as “catastrophic.”
“No one wants to live next door to stadium lighting with 80-foot poles as high as a seven-story building, with excessive glare and loud noise well into the evening hours every night of the week,” Wintermute told city leaders.
She argued, based on her experience in real estate, that lights would reduce property values of homes around the school in the 15-25 percent range, though she admitted there’s no data to actually quantify that.
The city council did amend the proposal to add some restrictions before approving it. On school nights, the lights need to be shut off by 9:45 p.m., and turned off by 10:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
They can also only be used by Alexandria City School athletic programs.
“I think it’s a better proposal than it was because of some of these changes,” said Silberberg.
But she was still the lone vote against the measure.
“It really shouldn’t be that close to residences in my opinion, in terms of night lights,” she said.