Consensus Leads to Conflict

Consensus Leads to Conflict

Neighborhood-School agreement leads to City Council-Planning Commission spat.

— Bishop Ireton High School and the surrounding neighborhoods have a history of disagreements. But when the school came forward to City Council with a plan expand the new school, they came with an unexpected ally: the local Clover/College Park Civic Association.

The school’s plans to expand the school were mutually agreed on by the school, neighborhood, and city staff. The building will add three stories in height and add new gyms, cafeterias, fitness rooms and classrooms. Parking at the site will also increase to 286 spaces while the total student population was negotiated to 925 instead of 950, which the school had originally proposed.

“In the past, at times, Bishop Ireton and the neighborhood have had disagreements,” said Lisa Porter, representing the civic association. “This [permit] and the new administration goes a long way to forging a new relationship, to new transparency between the school [and neighborhood], and to create a sense of community and understanding between our school and our community. These limitations allow the community and school to work as one.”

The City Council praised both the school and the neighborhood for working together on this project. City Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said the project was an example of what the council hoped to see more in the community.

“For a long time, it’s been school vs community,” said Pepper. “I can not tell you how much I appreciate the negotiations that went on for this. A lot of different issues had to be solved. A lot of tensions and feelings had to be negotiated. This is what I like to see. When you bring it here, you’ve solved almost everything. This isn’t us vs them, it’s ‘this is all our issue and we’re going to work together to solve them.’ This is what Alexandria is all about.”

The drama came in the clash between the City Council and the Planning Commission. When the project went before the Planning Commission, the commission overrode the staff recommendation, and the recommendation of the school and residents, and said the impositions on the school were too difficult to enforce, lacked precedent, and went against the commission's policy of encouraging shared parking. The City Council overrode the Planning Commission’s changes and rebuked the commission for exceeding its authority.

“I think that this phrase or kind of thinking exceeds Planning Commission’s function and seeks to set a new city policy for its process,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg. “It’s not within the Planning Commission’s purview. I would caution the commission to be careful and not redefine the city’s powers for itself or for the council.”

Councilman John Chapman suggested a conference with both the Planning Commission and the City Council, an idea suggested previously by members of the Planning Commission at their retreat a few weeks ago, where the two sides can clearly define what they see as the Planning Commission’s powers and responsibilities.