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November 15, 2011 Published in Schools, Top Stories

Seminary Hill Goes To Court Over Hammond Lights

By Carla Branch

Francis C. Hammond Middle School (Photo: Regan Kireilis)

The Seminary Hill Association appealed the Alexandria Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision regarding light on the athletic field at Francis C. Hammond Middle School last Thursday. SHA asked the Court to stay any action by the City Council regarding this matter until the suit is settled.

SHA appealed the determination of the City’s Planning Director that a Special Use Permit was tantamount or greater than a site plan and that setback variances could be allowed by the Planning Commission as part of the Special Use Permit process. SHA contended that no such variance to the zoning code could be allowed without a new or amended site plan, which the Alexandria City Public School system did not submit for the field at Hammond. SHA argued that the 60-foot tall lights and the requested setback variance required the submission of a new site plan.

The BZA rendered its decision on SHA’s appeal in October and issued a written Finding of Fact last week. The BZA ruled that, because ACPS owns the property on which the Hammond field is located and is paying for the construction of the lights out of the ACPS budget, ACPS has the right to build 60-foot tall lights on the property.

As to the front yard setback requirements, the BZA voted to deny SHA’s appeal and uphold the Planning Director’s determination. “A modification of the zoning ordinance requirements under Section 11-416 of the zoning ordinance may be approved as part of a special use permit application, even if a site plan meeting the requirements of section 11-406 is not included as part of the application. A special use permit is a legislative, discretionary approval that requires City Council review and approval. Allowing modifications under section 11-416 to be approved by Special Use Permit provides a streamlined process which has the potential for better and more consistent planning decisions than piecemeal applications and decisions that could result from separate SUP and site plan decisions. All criteria listed in Section 11-416(A) of the zoning ordinance apply to any consideration and approval of a modification, including when considered as part of a Special Use Permit application. The director was reasonable and correct in her determination,” the BZA wrote in its Nov. 10, Finding of Facts.

Next Steps

The School Board, as the applicant, could request that the request for a Special Use Permit to install lights on the upper athletic field at Hammond be docketed for a public hearing for City Council as soon as possible, probably in January. The Board could also wait until the matter is heard in Alexandria Circuit Court some time in the spring.

Ultimately, the decision may be made by City Attorney Jim Banks. “The suit has been filed and we will proceed to litigate the matter in Circuit Court,” Banks said.


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