What’s allowed? Prince Edward supervisors settle flag size dispute

Published 5:21 am Thursday, June 15, 2023

FARMVILLE – What’s the tallest flag allowed in Prince Edward County? By the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, supervisors had answered that and other flag size questions, putting an emergency ordinance in place while the planning commission fleshes out the permanent solution. 

A crowded room of county residents asked supervisors to remove the current restrictions, arguing that people should be allowed to do what they want on their own property. 

“People just need to leave people alone on their property,” said Joshua Amos. “Let them do what they want to do. I don’t care if they have a pride flag next door or black lives matter or a Confederate flag. It’s their land, let them do what they want. We need to come to a common ground where everybody’s happy and we need to stop fussing and fighting over this.” 

Email newsletter signup

The Meherrin resident was one of several American flag owners in the county who had received a notice last month. On Friday, May 5, Amos was informed his 72 square foot flag was in violation of county rules. The argument in his and every other case was that the flags were too big. 

Earl Wallace is the pastor over at Pisgah Baptist Church in Rice. He also spoke Tuesday, sharing stories of his time in Vietnam, serving this country. He encouraged supervisors to look at the flag as a symbol, not a sign. 

“I saw literally thousands of body bags because of people who died for that flag,” Wallace said. “Every member of this board, you pledged allegiance to that flag. Let it alone. Stay away from it. We need to support our flag.” 

Why is there a flag size issue? 

The issue stems from a decision the previous board of supervisors made back on April 12, 2022. That group approved an emergency ordinance, putting a maximum limit on the size of all flags in Prince Edward County. Flags can be no larger, the ordinance says, than 40 square feet or 5 x 8. Flagpoles, meanwhile, can be no higher than 20 feet. The only way around either of these ordinances is through a special use permit. 

As of Tuesday, over the past year there have been three oversize flag violations written and two advisory notices sent out. According to Prince Edward Planning and Zoning Administrator Robby Love, there were also three notices sent out on flag poles erected without a permit. Four of those were American flags 

“It feels like it’s restricting how patriotic we can be on our own property,” Ian Brock said of the current ordinance. 

Others talked about how the flag represents freedom, spotlighting their own service to the country. In the end, their message was the same: don’t restrict what we can put up. Looking to do something, supervisors started debating four options. 

The county’s options 

Option 1 meant nothing changes. That included a three flag limit, and every flag had to be no more than a maximum of 40 feet. Option 2 was also pretty simple: it would have removed all limitations. Residents could have put up any size flag, anywhere on their property. Option 3 involved getting a special use permit for flags, going through that each time you put in a new one. And finally, Option 4 would increase that maximum allowed height. A person could have three flags of any type, but combined they had to add up to no more than 120 square feet. 

In the end, it came down to a discussion between Option 2, supported by Harrison Jones and David Emert, and Option 4, supported by everyone else. 

Supervisor Cannon Watson reminded everyone that the law, state and federal, says you can’t differentiate between types of flags. One rule has to apply to all of them 

“You can have any kind of flag you want right up against your neighbor’s property,” Watson said. I think that would be a very poor display of being neighborly. [I] would like to have just a little bit of limitation. I just think you draw the line somewhere, so as not to have monstrosities of any flavor.”  

A little control over flag size

His concerns were echoed by Supervisor BIll Jenkins, who said a little control was needed. 

“We gotta have some kind of rule, we can’t just turn it loose,” Jenkins said. “Somebody’s gonna abuse it and we’ll be right here again. We’ve got to have a little bit of control somehow, so it won’t get carried away with some vulgar stuff.” 

Jones, meanwhile, said he recognizes the concern for vulgar or obscene flags. But that’s not the government’s responsibility to monitor. 

“I think the answer is not the government but the moral fabric of society,” Jones added. “It should not be the government but the community that holds free speech to a higher standard. Free speech should be regulated by the American citizens’ community. I don’t think it’s our job as a government to police it.” 

Jones made a motion to adopt Option 2, but it failed, with only himself and David Emert in support. Then Cannon Watson brought up Option 4. It passed, with only Jones and Emert in opposition. 

So what happens now? 

Option 4 is an emergency ordinance, which means that now residents can have up to three flags on their property, totaling a combined 120 square feet. To become permanent, it still has to go through the process like any other bill. That means it’ll be sent to the planning commission to take up in July.