Nikki Harris and Rachel Wilson
The first of four lawsuits pertaining to the fight over the installation of lights at T.C.’s Parker-Gray Stadium will go to trial in February. Here is what to expect the parties to argue about.
The Lewis v. City of Alexandria, Alexandria City School Board and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) case will go to trial beginning on February 24, 2020. John Cafferky, a partner at Blankingship & Keith, and his firm will represent the School Board. Nine different landowners who live behind the school on Bishop Lane, Woods Place, and Quaker Lane are the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs argue that the terms of an agreement to take land from the Seminary neighborhood residents included the city facilitating the building of 29 new homes on Woods Place, Woods Avenue, and Quaker Lane. The plaintiffs assert that Alexandria agreed to not install lights on athletic fields, including the stadium, because of the school’s close proximity to the new homes. This agreement was allegedly reaffirmed when T.C. was being rebuilt from 2003 to 2007.
Among the problems with this alleged contract is that “there were no terms and conditions stated,” said Cafferky, “[There were] no guidelines to where this contract ends or leads.”
According to legal filings reviewed by Theogony, one major point in the Lewis case is that the claims based upon alleged contracts from either the 1960s or 2000s are arguably barred by two provisions of Virginia’s Statute of Frauds. The Statute of Frauds is a state law that identifies those instances or situations in which a contract must be in writing.
First, the defendants argue that the alleged verbal contracts do not meet the requirements of a binding verbal contract. For a verbal contract to be enforceable, terms and conditions need to be stated and both parties have to recall them or agree to them if there is no third party present to provide evidence of the contract terms.
Second, there is no writing signed by the School Board for the alleged 1960s contract. Although the plaintiffs do not plead the existence of an easement, a right to use land for a certain purpose (for example, a utility line), they argue that they can enforce a contract that grants rights comparable to those of an easement.
In the alleged 2000s contract, the defendants argue that the School Board did not state the contract’s “essential terms,” which would be a promise not to install lights at the stadium. Rather, a December 2003 letter from the Superintendent says that there “will be changes in circumstances over time” over the “issues” concerning stadium lighting.
The second major argument is that the 2004 granting of a Developmental Special Use Permit (DSUP) for rebuilding the school does not establish a contract, since it is a legislative act undertaken by the City Council subject to amendment or change by the Council or subsequent councils. Therefore, the DSUP does not constitute an enforceable contract between the School Board or the City Council and neighbors or third parties.
According to the Lewis plaintiffs’ lawsuit, decades ago the neighborhood where T.C. now stands was called “Macedonia” and “Seminary.” City officials and others often referred to it as “Mudtown” in the 1960s. It was developed by African Americans after the Civil War when their access to other neighborhoods was prohibited or limited.
By 1960, 40 African American families lived on property in Seminary. In the fall of that year, the City Council directed the City Manager to investigate the acquisition of land in Seminary as a location for a new school to respond to the need for high school integration. The Seminary neighborhood was chosen as a location to build the high school because the land could be easily acquired for several reasons, including lower land values.
The lawsuits about the City Council’s 2018 decision to allow lights were filed by different landowners than those who filed the Lewis case. These lawsuits include Goff v. City Council of Alexandria, et al; Lugo v. City Council of Alexandria, et al; and Cacheris v. City Council of Alexandria, et al. The governmental defendants—the City Council, the City of Alexandria, the Planning Commission and the School Board in these cases—are referred to as the “city defendants.”
The School Board proposed modifications to the 2004 DSUP which allowed for the rebuilding of T.C. Williams, which the City Council adopted in 2018. Those modifications would allow, among other things, lights on the Parker-Gray Stadium field, subject to extensive restrictions as to times and users.
The DSUP was reviewed and recommended by the Planning Commission, a body appointed by the Council to make recommendations regarding DSUPs. The city defendants’ second argument is that the Planning Commission cannot approve DSUPs and can only make recommendations, and therefore must be dismissed as a defendant.
The city defendants’ third argument is that the complaint filed fails to provide facts to establish that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the approval of DSUP. Friends of the Rappahannock v. Caroline County Bd. of Supervisors, a Virginia Supreme Court case involving a land use complaint, establishes a two-part test to decide whether a landowner is an adjoining landowner. Plaintiffs must (1) own or occupy real property within or in close proximity to the property that is the subject of the land use decision; and (2) allege facts demonstrating a particularized harm to some personal or property right, legal or equitable, or a burden that is suffered by the plaintiffs in a way different from the general public.
The city defendants agree that the plaintiffs have passed the first part of the test by being in close proximity to T.C.’s athletic field, but argue that the plaintiffs fail to satisfy the second part of the test which requires a showing of how they would be especially harmed by the lights.
“The City Council voted in favor in October 2018 to add lights with several restrictions, such as which days and hours they could be used, and the use of events unaffiliated with T.C.,” said Cafferky. These restrictions are intended to eliminate “particularized harm” to the plaintiffs.
The City Council voted to adopt development conditions dealing with the football field, including new stadium lighting, an upgraded stadium sound system, a new press box, installing an eighth lane on the track, a new restroom and storage building, a new concession building, and relocation of the football stadium scoreboard. Several landowners said that the decision was “invalid or inappropriate” on either procedural grounds, on the basis of tradition, or substantive grounds, on the basis of a wrongful granting of lights by the Council.
The city defendants also assert that the plaintiffs’ claim that the DSUP somehow did not comply with zoning ordinance sections 11-501 and 11-504 (which say that special permit uses may be approved if the proposed use or structure will be designed and operated so as to “avoid, minimize or mitigate any potentially adverse effects on the neighborhood as a whole or other properties in the vicinity”) included no “specific data” and only from assumptions of “excessive glare and loud noise.,” according to the defendants.
The city defendants argue that technology for lights has changed significantly. The city defendants assert that LED lights can now pinpoint a specific area of illumination without leakage or glare that disturbs neighbors.
All the judges in Alexandria recused themselves from the trial to avoid perceptions of bias or partiality. The cases will be heard by a retired judge from Loudon County, Thomas D. Horne.
“We always hope that something can be worked out that would resolve all these cases. Whether that will happen or not, I cannot tell you,” Cafferky said.