Confederate flag flying 35 feet over height limit may be removed pending public hearing

Published 7:22 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Residents of Prince Edward County have been fighting an ongoing battle for the removal of a large Confederate flag waving on the hill of a prominent entrance to the community.

The county is attempting to force removal of the flag on Bush River Drive, visible from U.S. Route 460, but property owners Carolyn and Corbett Bowman have submitted an appeal, halting the removal process. A public hearing on the appeal is scheduled for next week.

The zoning administrator’s notice of violation was submitted on Monday, April 11, in regards to the erection of a flagpole. Opponents and the county say the flag exceeds the allowable height limit and is not authorized under the zoning ordinance. The maximum height allowed under the ordinance is 25 feet. The Confederate flag is on a 60-foot pole.

Property owners obtained all of the required approvals in December 2021, prior to the erection of the flagpole, according to the appeal. The building permit was specified for the use/class of agricultural.

The Bowmans have deemed it unfair under a law passed by the 1995 General Assembly to have to remove or relocate the flag due to the cost, according to the Board of Zoning Appeals’ meeting packet.

Senate Bill 1079 referenced in the Bowmans’ appeal says that if more than 60 days have passed since a building permit was approved, then the decision may not be changed unless it was obtained through malfeasance or fraud.

The appeal also argues that the removal of the flagpole would be infringing on First Amendment rights. The county’s actions are thought to be motivated by the specific flag being flown because actions were taken only after residents began complaining, according to the applicants’ justification.

Multiple complaints have been received with concerns of the representation of Crossroads Community Services Board. The center is located on neighboring property at 214 Bush River Drive.

An event was held during the first weekend of April to raise the flag where attendees used the Crossroads parking lot, according to an email from Pam Wallace, interim executive director at Crossroads, in the appeal meeting packet.

Crossroads Community Services Board prevents and treats the occurrence of mental illness, intellectual disabilities, substance use and co-occurring disorders and improves quality of life for those experiencing conditions and their family members, according to its website.

Crossroads Executive Director Dr. Melba R. Moore said that she was copied on emails along with the rest of the board in which people were voicing their concerns about the flag. One of the emails she received stated people who come to the facility may be offended by the flag and not want to receive services, she said. Others were concerned about the flag’s positioning, looking as if it were a Crossroads Community Services Board flag.

An opposing appeal was submitted by Robert Love, the county’s director of planning and community development, and attorney Andrew McRoberts, who represents the county.

This appeal argues that the flagpole does not comply with the zoning requirements, according to the Board of Zoning Appeals’ meeting packet. The Bowmans’ site is zoned for commercial general use where accessory use, such as a flagpole, is not permitted.

“The issue of the appeal has to do with the location and the height of the flagpole. It has nothing to do with the contents of the flag,” said County Administrator Doug Stanley.

The Bowmans did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, in the Board of Supervisors meeting room at the Prince Edward County Courthouse to receive citizen input.

Citizen input will be received by Karin Everhart, deputy clerk, through in-person participation, written comments and remote participation.