The Richmond Urban Design Committee on Thursday endorsed the city’s plans to remove the pedestals and fencing where Confederate monuments once stood.
Richmond planning officials said the timeline for moving the last pieces of the monument remains murky, but the city’s plans envision that the sites on Monument Avenue and elsewhere in the city will be reseeded, paved over or replaced with new landscaping.
Several committee members and local residents, however, challenged the removal of the pedestals, arguing that they could be used to teach lessons or build new monuments. But those who endorsed their removal disagreed, with some saying they aren’t needed.
City officials expect the vote Thursday will lead to the City Council later this summer approving the final disposition of the monuments and pedestals items a year after the city took them down the statues.
Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the removal of the Confederate monuments last summer after weeks of protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The mayor started taking them down immediately on July 1, citing threats to public safety after demonstrators successfully toppled several of them last June.
It’s still unclear what the city will do with the statues, which initially were moved to a sewage treatment plant. City officials have declined to say whether they have been moved to a new location since then.
About two dozen historical organizations, museums and interest groups last year contacted the city to acquire the monuments. City officials started evaluating the proposals to decide what should be done with the statues last fall, but the process has been delayed for months.
While the City Council is responsible for deciding where the monuments should go, the body recently requested support from the mayor’s administration.
Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said moving the pedestals and remaining items into storage is part of the process, but he did not say when the administration and council staff expect to make final recommendations for the disposition of the monuments.
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
The Urban Design Committee endorsed plans to take down the plinth of the monument on Libby Hill in a 5-4 vote.
The city has proposed paving over the site; the committee recommended a raised circular curb be installed to guide traffic at the intersection.
Several committee members and local residents said they were wary of completely removing the large pedestal.
“I know a lot of people object to it because it represents the Confederacy, but now that the statue has been removed from it, it seems to me that it could be a huge statement,” said local resident Sarah Driggs. “I think the city should reconsider. It’s a valuable asset. ... It’s short-sighted to take it down with no plan.”
Max Hepp-Buchanan, who also serves on the city’s Planning Commission, disagreed and said even without the statues of Confederate leaders on them, the monuments remain symbols of white supremacy.
“We’re starting the process of sort of rebuilding this part of the city, and it has to start with taking them down,” he said. “ I understand the heartache and pain with losing such a prominent landmark, but this is not, in my opinion, the kind of landmark we want in Richmond anymore.”
In addition to the state-owned Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, the only remaining Confederate statue in the city is that of A.P. Hill at the intersection of Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue.
The Urban Design Committee voted unanimously to endorse plans for the city to take down the statue and pave over the intersection after an official explained that it is one of the most vehicle crash-prone areas in the city each year. “The statue is the primary reason for that,” said city traffic engineer Michael Sawyer.
The city has yet to remove the statue because the former Confederate general is buried underneath the statue.
Nolan said the city has been in contact with relatives about relocating his remains to a family property before requesting permission from the city’s circuit court.
“It is our understanding the family desires that the remains be relocated and re-interred in Culpeper County,” he said in an email Thursday. “Once we have reached agreement with representatives of the family, we expect the City Council to consider a resolution approving that monument’s disposition.”
Along Monument Avenue, the city plans to replace the monuments of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Jefferson Davis and J.E.B. Stuart with landscaped medians featuring shrubs and new grass.
The city, according to the plans, would completely erase the Stonewall Jackson monument at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Arthur Ashe Boulevard. City officials said paving over the former landmark could improve traffic safety there.
While the votes were nearly unanimous for all the statues on Monument Avenue, several members disagreed with removal of the Jefferson Davis monument, saying that it could be transformed into a public gathering space similar to the circle around the Lee monument several blocks away.
“I can’t supportive removing it without a plan. It’s too elaborate and expensive,” said committee member Charles Woodson. “It’s too complicated to just wipe it away.”
Others who argued against removing the remaining statuary there noted that state lawmakers earlier this year allocated $9.8 million for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a process for “reimagining” the avenue. City officials said their plans for the removal of the monument pedestals are only temporary, and that it has not been coordinated with museum officials.
The city also plans to remove three bases where the statues of Williams Carter Wickham, Joseph Bryan and Fitzhugh Lee used to stand.
The discussions about the removal of those remains did not lead to as much disagreement, though several commission members said they would like more trees in the area.
The Richmond Planning Commission will vote on whether to recommend all of the plans for approval by the City Council on June 21.