Locals weigh in on how to use space near Richmond’s Lee Monument

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RICHMOND, Va. — The public is weighing in about what they think regulations should look like around the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond.

Under Executive Order 67, Governor Terry McAuliffe put in emergency regulations around the statue. This came after calls to take down Confederate monuments led to a violent rally, turned deadly in Charlottesville in 2017. 

The Department of General Services wants to make these emergency regulations are permanent. 

“To just roll an emergency regulation into permanent status is just overkill,” Katherine Jordan, of Richmond, said.

A few blocks away from the Lee Monument is where Jordan calls home. She says the grass around the statue has held community events and her kids even play there when it snows. 

Today, she attended a meeting at the Virginia War Memorial Carillon in Byrd Park with the state agency to voice her concerns. 

“I think everyone was on edge after Charlottesville and it was appropriate to have very strict regulations,” she said. “What we’ve seen at subsequent events at Lee statue is not at all the type of violent event that happened in Charlottesville.” 

Jordan, as well as others at the meeting, also expressed concerns that regulating the monument would impact people’s right to free speech and ability to access the green space. 

The Lee monument is in the middle of a busy roundabout on Monument Ave., with no direct crosswalk to access it. The grass around the statue is owned by the state, but the sidewalk is the City of Richmond’s. 

The proposed regulations require groups of 10 or more to apply for an event permit to be at the site. If they don’t get it, technically they can gather on the city sidewalk, since that’s a public space. 

Goad Gatsby has demonstrated around the monument in the past and says having demonstrators on the sidewalk poses a risk to safety. 

“When you force people on the sidewalk and don’t allow use of the grass, it forces groups to be much closer,” Gatsby said. “Still have people just on the edge of the sidewalk, very close to traffic.” 

Other regulations include closing the grounds after dark and banning signs, posters or banners from being put on the statue. Groups with permits also wouldn’t be allowed to park vehicles on the monument grounds. 

The Executive Order formed a special task force to come up with these regulations. There’s a balancing act going on while drafting them. 

“How do you protect free speech, but then how do you get people to the property. Then how do you maintain public safety?” Dena Potter, Director of Communications for the Dept. of General Services said. 

While these rules are only for the Lee Monument, Potter says they could be offered up as a model to cities and towns across the Commonwealth for spaces around monuments. 

Officials with the ACLU of Virginia say Gov. Ralph Northam can solve the problem. He could use his executive powers to remove the statue from Monument Ave. since it is on state property.  

“If the Lee Monument were not located where it is now, then there would be no need for these onerous and potentially unconstitutional regulations,” Bill Farrar, the Director of Strategic Communications for the ACLU of Virginia said. 

Currently, under state code, municipalities cannot disturb or interfere with war monuments or memorials. During the General Assembly session, Del. David Toscano filed a bill that would allow local governments to decide these memorials fates, including Confederate monuments. 

The legislation didn’t pass. 

The Dept. of General Services will be collecting public comments until March 8. After the regulations are reviewed and finalized, there will be another 30-day period where people can submit their thoughts to the agency. 

DGS officials hope to have the proposed regulations finalized so they can be rolled out before the current rules expire in May.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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