Design unveiled to fill Lee Circle with plants

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RICHMOND, Va. — As Richmond’s Lee Circle remains closed to the public more than two years after barriers were installed around its perimeter, new plans have been unveiled to temporarily fill the space with trees and plants.

The firm VHB, which designed the landscaping of other former Confederate statue sites along Monument Avenue, submitted a proposal to plant small trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and perennials inside and around the area.

The plan includes narrow, mulched walking paths, but doesn’t appear to leave much room for gathering, despite the space gaining national attention in 2020 as a gathering place for protesters against racial injustice.

HBV

Plans for Lee Circle submitted by VHB

According to the proposal, the plantings will include year-round species that do not require intensive maintenance and will align with the character of other recently established grassy medians along the street.

The cost of the project is estimated at $100,000 and installation would begin between late September and mid-October, depending on city approval.

Ever since Lee’s statue was removed in September 2021, Richmond residents have been wondering when the city will reopen the circle.

“It’s just kind of weird that they’ve fenced it off for so long,” said Cassidy Edwards, who lives across the street.

Barricades were put up around the area in June 2020 and fencing was erected in January 2021. Some community members questioned whether keeping the circle closed had been an attempt to stop crowds from hanging out in the area , which is surrounded by residences.

“I guess that was the gathering place, and people just wanted it to stop,” Edwards said.

Advocates have branded the space Marcus-David Peters Circle, after a black man shot dead by Richmond police in 2018 while suffering from a mental health crisis. Prosecutors later ruled his shooting death justifiable.

Throughout the summer of 2020, Defenders used the space for community gardens, barbecues and other recreational activities.

While Fan resident Sharon Harrison said she thought the proposed new design looked good, she wasn’t thrilled that the layout seemed to discourage gatherings.

“I think it’s a disservice. They should be able to congregate, I mean it’s a huge space,” Harrison said.

During the height of the civil unrest and throughout the rest of 2020, Capitol Police told CBS that 6 neighbors routinely request service calls in the area for disturbances and security issues, including intentional fires.

Edwards said she never had a problem with people meeting at the circle, but added that she felt it was no longer an ideal situation.

“I also don’t really see a reason why this would be the place for that anymore,” Edwards said.

Richmond 2n/a District Councilor Katherine Jordan said the new landscaping design would be reviewed and voted on by the city’s urban design committee on September 8 and then by the planning commission on September 19 for final approval.

She asks the public to express themselves.

“We encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback on this proposed temporary design at every stage, and especially at UDC and planning where we have seen design changes on other projects. All meetings are public. and open to in-person and virtual participation,” Jordan said in a Facebook post.

Overall, Edwards and Harrison supported the design.

“It’s good, I like it,” Edwards said. “And it’s going to be beautiful if that’s what they do.”

“It looks good, I like it,” Harrison said.

Derek Rodriguez, a Henrico County resident who works in the area, said the improved space could bring peace to the area and he would like to visit during his breaks.

“I would much rather see trees than the statue,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like it would be the perfect place for everyone here to get away from stress and stuff like that.”

The landscaping will not be part of the city’s official “Reimagine Monument Avenue” project, which would include permanent designs that “reflect the character and history of the site,” according to the proposal documents.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was originally tasked with redesigning the historic sites where the monuments once stood, but the City of Richmond took over when Governor Ralph Northam transferred ownership of Lee Circle from the state to the city just before Governor Glenn Youngkin took over. Desk.

The change was not widely communicated to the public until it was reported by CBS 6 in April of this year. A museum spokesperson said the VMFA was not consulted by the state or city prior to the change.

Detailing the museum’s secondment from the project, communications obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed that VMFA Director Alex Nyerges wrote an email on December 30, 2021 in response to a news report that Confederate statues could be donated to the Black History Museum.

“What am I missing? I know we’re out of the loop, but being this far out is insulting. Just saying,” Nyerges wrote.

The museum’s legislative liaison, Katie Payne, replied: “Okay – it’s frustrating that we haven’t been kept up to date on this, especially after everything we’ve done (and were willing to do). We suspected something like this was in the works. .. but I haven’t heard anything from official sources.”

The subject line of the thread was “Is it April 1stst already?” – April fools.

Jordan said a timeline for the city’s reinvention efforts has yet to be determined. Once the landscaping is complete, she said the state will get the fence back.

City spokesperson Petula Burks again stressed that the planting project would only be a “temporary solution”.

“The City supports its commitment to bring the community together to listen and reinvent the circle for the future. We understand that these conversations need to be thoughtful for healing to continue and true understanding to be achieved,” Burks said.

In July, a city official told CBS 6 that the circle would reopen “in the fall” after grass could recover following the dismantling of the Lee Pedestal in December 2021. The irrigation system also needed repairs.

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