City Council Meeting – January 10, 2022

Citizen comments began with Oludare Ogunde. He spoke in support of the casino and is frustrated that there were many misconceptions and falsehoods spread on what the casino would have entailed for the city.

Councilwoman responded to his comment, appreciating his sentiments. She remarked that the  8th and 9th district had voted for the casino and she supports it as well. She listed other unfortunate circumstances, such as how some people may not have known the referendum was on the back of the ballot. In addition, the money from the casino would have stayed in the city . She thanked Mr. Ogunde again and spoke out her phone number outloud in case he wished to be in contact. 

Mr. Saunders, the chief administrative officer of the city, came to introduce a new member Sabrina Joy-Hogg as the new deputy chief administrative officer for finance and administration. She introduced herself and said that she looked forward to working with the council in the future.

In response to the consent agenda, numerous people came to speak in support of item 1 and 5 on the consent agenda, ORD 2021-270 and ORD 2021-337. Both ordinances discuss allocating funds for the Enslaved African Heritage Campus project and to create “a grant to The Museum of the American Slave Trade, also known as the National Slavery Museum Foundation, for the support of planning and fundraising activities for the establishment of a national slavery museum at the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail/Devil’s Half-Acre site in Richmond.” Many of those who came to speak in support of these initiatives were experts in their field, religious leaders, or  leaders of the community in general.

In response to the comments, many councilmembers shared their thoughts. Councilmembers Lambert, Robertson, Jordan, and Addison added their support, choosing to be patrons of items 1 and 5. Councilmember Jones shared a poem that resonated with him, and Councilmember Lynch commented that “Richmond is the womb of oppression.” Councilwoman Larson in particular thanked the speaker who discussed a previous movement occurring in Richmond, as she appreciates hearing the history of the city since she has only been here since 2005. Council president Newbile also spoke in support of the ordinances, sharing how she was nearly moved to tears seeing the slave trail marker and going through devil’s half acre. She is thankful for the perseverance of the community and the leaders who had spoken today

With that, the consent agenda was approved and the council moved on to the regular agenda, specifically item 41, 2021-208. The ordinance is to “authorize the special use of the property known as 3101 East Marshall Street for the purpose of a mixed-use building, upon certain terms and conditions.

Kevin Vonck, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development Review spoke to the council stating the administration’s support of the special use permit. The building will have room for nine residential units, and once this permit is given, the building still has to go to the Center of Architectural Review (CAR) before being fully allowed.

A few neighbors of the buildings came to speak in opposition to the ordinance. Melissa, who is located about 100 feet from the property, calls the building a “rectangular box” that is three stories, while the other buildings are no more than two stories with yards. She finds the property incompatible with the neighborhood and it  would also remove green space.

Lucy also spoke in opposition, asking for the number of residential units in the property to be reduced from the current nine units. 

John stated that multiple neighbors are in opposition, with there being 183 signatures in the petition they created.

No speakers came forward to speak in support of the ordinance. 

Council president Newbile had more questions for Mr. Vonck. In response, he said that there has already been several iterations of the plan. Changes have been and can continue to be made on architecture and to have “less bulk”. However, he states that the density of the property matches nearby houses in regards to units per acre. He reiterated that even if this ordinance is adopted, it still has to go through CAR. CAR will analyze the actual shape of the property to see if it matches the historical elements of the neighborhood.

Councilmember Trammel was disheartened to hear the concerns of the three speakers, and asked if the issue can be continued for another two weeks to address such concerns. 

Council president Newbile heard the request, but also reminded the council that this property has been worked on since 2020, and numerous amendmentshave already been accommodated for by the developer

Mr. Vonck came forward to confirm this, saying how changes were made to the back alley area, private trash collection was implemented, and parking space issues were solved. 

Councilwoman Trammel followed up by asking Mr. Vonck whether the concerns from the three speakers will be addressed.

Mr. Vonck said that CAR will refer to the architecture of the building and help ease worries about visual cohesion of the building, however, they cannot change the use of the building or its unit count. He also reminded the council that within another report of the property, there were neighbors speaking in support of the property. Thus, although no one came to speak today in support, the sentiments are present in the neighborhood.

When voting commenced, all council members besides Trammel said yes. 

The next item to be discussed was item 43, ORD 2021-315. The ordinance is “to provide for the removal of certain monuments on City-owned property and to provide for the disposition of such monuments, as authorized by Va. Code § 15.2-1812.

Council member Jordan spoke more on the two monuments in question, one being the Statue of Williams Carter Wickham, the cavalry general of the Confederate states. The other statue is in Meadow Park of a soldier from the First Virginia Regiment in 1754. The monument is not a confederate memorial but serves as an honor to soldiers in Virginia who have served. As such, she would prefer to continue the paper, but recognizes the tense situation. She would prefer to either remove the plaque or recontextualize it, instead of removing the whole monument.

The monument does depict a soldier from an earlier time than the Civil War. However, as stated on the plaque, the soldiers honored encompassed numerous wars, including the Civil War. The current plaque follows the First Regiment throughout time,  stating that they “joined the Confederate states to defend her honor and her sovereign rights. The First Regiment forthwith volunteered for duty.” As such, the issue is murky indeed.

Council member Lambert showed hesitation to Council member Jordan’s arguments. After her statement, the council voted, with all council members saying yes except for Council member Jordan.

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