Flagpole will remain standing

Published 5:59 pm Thursday, July 7, 2022

A public hearing was held in Prince Edward County on Tuesday, June 21, by the Board of Zoning Appeals to discuss the removal of a flagpole that flies a confederate flag 35 feet over the height limit. Two board members abstained from making a decision and three voted to affirm the appeal, leaving the flagpole up.

Russell Dove and John Prengaman were the two that abstained. The remaining board members, Paul Hoffman, John F. Townsend III and James Davis, voted in favor of the appeal applicants.

“This was a huge win for our Confederate veterans, our First Amendment freedom of expression and landowner property rights in the Commonwealth,” stated Grayson Jennings from Virginia Flaggers in an email.

The hearing was opened by a collective pledge of allegiance followed by a special request from a board member. People were asked not to discuss the content of the flag at the start of the public hearing. It was emphasized that the flagpole was the only topic of discussion.

The contents of the public hearing were reviewed and presented to the people in attendance. Carolyn and Corbette Bowman, property owners of the flagpole and appeal applicants, were offered the first opportunity to speak, but let their attorney, Herschel Keller, speak on their behalf.

Keller began by explaining the reasoning behind the appeal. Their argument was based on the premise of a Senate bill not allowing the recall of a building permit approval after 60 days unless obtained by malfeasance or fraud. He then went on to describe the process of how the permit was acquired.

The standard process for obtaining a zoning permit and building permit for new structures includes submitting an application form that contains the property location, tax map number, drawings showing parcel changes and denoting distances to all property lines, according to Robert Love, director of Planning and Community Development. The form is then reviewed by the assistant zoning administrator and payment of the application fee finalizes the zoning permit. Next the applicant must submit a building permit application that is reviewed by the Building Official. Payment also finalizes the building permit.

The hearing opened for public comments after the review.

A flagpole advocate spoke in favor of the landowners’ legal rights. The process was followed step by step, he said.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the property owner,” he said. “How would you feel if you took the proper steps by law and this illegal action is taking place now?”

Another speaker suggested adjusting the height of the pole to measure up to 25 feet which a board member said they would write their suggestion down on paper.

Public involvement ceased and the county council, Andrew McRoberts, came up to speak.

The Bowmans’ counsel made an argument that the building permit issued by a building official can satisfy the requirements needed to obtain the permit, according to McRoberts. McRoberts opposed this argument by stating that in Prince Edward County only the zoning administrator, also serving as county administrator, and the assistant zoning administrator are authorized to issue permits.

The county made two clerical errors during the issuance of the permit, according to McRoberts. The first error was the inclusion of language on the building permit form from many years ago. The language speaks of consistency of the permit with the zoning ordinance. The zoning administrator does not review or sign off on building permit forms, according to McRoberts.

The second clerical error was made by the building official who signed off on the building permit. The official signed without omitting the language regarding consistency of the permit with the zoning ordinance.

The building official testified at the hearing that he was not authorized to sign and never intended to state that the permit was consistent with the zoning ordinance because he didn’t realize the statement was on the form, according to McRoberts. The language was included on the form and over his signature in error.

One of the board members addressed McRoberts and said that he made a very compelling case presenting the errors made by the county.

“But those errors should have been caught within the 60 days,” the board member said.

Questions arose about other flagpoles, specifically one at the Trinity Memorial Gardens cemetery exceeding the limit. The flagpole is in a different zoning area, A-1 agricultural, where there is no height restriction, according to Love.

An appeal can be made by the board within 30 days, but the board has not met to discuss future plans, according to Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley.

“We are thankful to the hundreds of citizens who reached out to offer support and/or to contribute to our legal defense fund, most of whom expressed anger and dissatisfaction with the ‘woke’ actions of the board of supervisors and other county officials, and thankful that the memorial will stand… to the glory of God, and in memory and honor of the men who fought and died in the nearby battles of Saylor’s Creek and High Bridge,” Jennings added.