Six residents of Monument Avenue are joining the legal effort to block Gov. Ralph Northam from removing a massive statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, arguing that taking the bronze figure down would hurt their property values and jeopardize the tax benefits of living in a National Historic Landmark District.
The residents, who filed their complaint Monday in Richmond Circuit Court, are asking a judge to consolidate their suit with a case brought last week by William C. Gregory, the great-grandson of the couple that deeded the property to the state in 1890.
Only one of the residents — Helen Marie Taylor, a 96-year-old who called protesters “snakes,” “scoundrels” and “graffiti goons” in an interview with The Washington Post last week — is named in the new filing. The other five are petitioning to participate anonymously and are listed in the filings as John, Joseph, Sally, Charles and Thomas Does.
The motion says Taylor, who is best known for fighting to preserve the stone pavers along the street and has been a vocal defender of the monuments, “has been harassed by protesters at and in front of her residence on Monument Avenue, causing the other plaintiffs to be concerned about their personal safety and the safety of their families and residences.”
The motion also cites a small protest outside of the law office representing Gregory; Blackburn, Conte, Schilling & Click. The firm told WRIC that “the protest got ‘scary’ after demonstrators cut off power to the building and some knocked on a lawyer’s window.”
Judge Bradley B. Cavedo has already issued a 10-day injunction in the suit filed by Gregory, who argues taking down the monument to Lee would violates language in the deed signed by his family, in which the state promised to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the monument.
In arguing to have their case consolidated with Gregory’s, the six Monument Avenue residents say they make different but complimentary legal arguments focused on Northam’s authority under Virginia law and an 1889 joint resolution of the General Assembly.
As for their standing to bring the suit, they allege that “removal of the Lee statue or any significant alteration of it or any of the other monuments within the Monument Avenue Historic District will result in the loss of National Historic Landmark designation of the district, which will have substantial adverse impact on plaintiffs, including the loss of favorable tax treatment and reduction in property values. They will also suffer injury as a result of the loss of a priceless work of art from their neighborhood and the degradation of the internationally recognized avenue on which they reside.”
Monument Avenue contains some of the most valuable residential land in the city. Most homes near the Lee Monument are assessed at more than $1 million, according to city records. As for the alleged loss of tax benefits, the residents cite federal and state code that grants tax credits and other incentives for rehabilitation and preservation of buildings in designated historic districts.
The sentiments expressed in the lawsuit, however, are not shared among all residents in the area. The civic association that represents the neighborhood, the Monument Avenue Preservation Society, said last week it supports state and city plans to remove the Confederate memorials.
“For too long, we have overlooked the inherent racism of these monuments, and for too long we have allowed the grandeur of the architecture to blind us to the insult of glorifying men for their roles in fighting to perpetuate the inhumanity of slavery,” the association’s board of directors wrote.
Northam’s administration and Attorney General Mark Herring have vowed to fight the legal challenges. A hearing in the Gregory case is scheduled for Thursday. A hearing in the suit filed by the residents had been scheduled for the same date but Herring said in a statement Monday evening he had filed to have the case transferred to federal court because of its focus on the statue’s status as a nationally designated landmark and the potential loss of federal tax credits.
“Symbols matter, and the Virginia of today can no longer honor a racist system that enslaved millions of people,” he wrote in the filing. “Installing a grandiose monument to the Lost Cause was wrong in 1890, and demanding that it stay up forever is wrong now.”