On Oct. 2, the Planning Commission will consider a text amendment to the Zoning Code entitled “Lighting for Congregate Recreational Facilities” that potentially could have adverse effects on virtually every neighborhood in Alexandria. In effect, it would permit 80-foot lighting structures on every playing field, public or private, over the entire city.
Usually a sweeping change to the Zoning Ordinances such as this one would involve considerable community outreach by the city and ample input by the homeowners and others affected by the change. I have served on city zoning advisory groups whose mandate was less potent than this proposed amendment to the ordinance.
In this case, it appears to be the tail wagging the dog. Over neighborhood resistance, the School Board, abetted by the city Parks and Rec Department, is seeking to put 80-foot lights at the refurbished T. C. Williams football stadium. Under the present zoning structure, that move potentially could be blocked by a neighborhood petition and two “no” votes on council. Thus authorities are attempting an “end run” by changing the ordinance to affect every playing field in Alexandria and thus make it easier to get 80-foot lights at the stadium.
Proof of this idea is the next item on the Planning Commission agenda, involving improvements to the stadium. It specifies that if the Commission turns down the earlier text amendment, it then is requested to approve 60-foot lights at the stadium, where lights specifically have been forbidden by a provision of a Special Use Permit.
Trust in Alexandria government is the lowest it has been in my 50 years living here, fueled by such issues as the Potomac Metro entrance and Kerig Estates decisions. This attempt to gut the ordinance governing lighting on playing fields without any prior community input — a change with clear city-wide impacts — is certain to erode trust further. The Planning and Zoning Department should pull the item from the Planning Commission docket and first expose it to public scrutiny.