Panel strikes plan for medians around Lee statue
The Richmond City Council agreed Monday to strike a proposed parks ordinance intended to give law enforcement more authority to police the medians around the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue.
With Gov. Ralph Northam proposing $11 million in state funding to create new plans for the area around the soonto-be-removed Confederate monument, city officials said it would be premature to approve the local ordinance.
While the graffiti-covered monument has become a touchstone for a new racial justice movement, several area residents last year urged the city to crack down on the frequent protests and confrontations around it since June.
Former 2nd District Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, who co-sponsored the bill with Mayor Levar Stoney, had said designating the medians as parks would let police enforce local gun restrictions and prohibit camping and other overnight activity in the medians.
Chris Frelke, the city’s parks director, told the council Monday night that “there was not a lot of enforcement that would have been gained by naming it a park.”
The ordinance would apply only to the medians, as the Lee monument and the circle surrounding it is owned by the state.
Speaking before the council agreed to strike the measure, incoming 2nd District councilwoman Katherine Jordan mentioned the governor’s recently announced plans to have the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts work with urban planners, historians, artists and local residents to develop new plans for the avenue.
While the original city ordinance applied to the medians in each direction from the statue, the Richmond Planning Commission in November recommended paring it down to two parcels on North Allen Avenue known as Grace Park.
Area residents are involved in maintaining Grace Park, but like the other medians, it is technically managed by the Department of Public Works, according to city records.
The other medians are open green space lined with trees, but residents had also been planning for several years to install benches, walkways and new landscaping on North Allen Avenue south of the Lee statue.
“This is not a reflection on their attempt to make it a beautified space for people enjoy,” Jordan said of the community park efforts and the council’s decision to strike the ordinance. “This is because we have a new initiative that deserves every parcel within it.”