RICHMOND, Va. — What was formerly known as the Lee Circle on Richmond's Monument Avenue was supposed to reopen this past fall, but the space will continue to be closed off until at least springtime.
In October, Richmond's Planning Commission approved a controversial landscaping project to fill the circle, which housed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee before its 2021 removal, with plants and trees.
The city said the planting project was a "temporary fix" until a long-term vision for the circle could be determined.
The city's Urban Design Committee heavily criticized the project and recommended that the Planning Commission reject the proposal. The urban designers said the planting project ignores the historical significance of the circle, lacked engagement from the community before it was announced and they also questioned how temporary the project is since a timeline has not been developed for the "Reimagine Monument Avenue" project.
Though the circle was a place where many protesters gathered in 2020, the committee raised concerns that the landscaping design purposefully restricts public access to the circle by filling it with plants.
But the Planning Commission approved the project anyway.
Planning Director Kevin Vonck asked the commission to support it because he did not believe the circle was safe for gathering. He said the space is in the middle of a busy traffic circle and lacks pedestrian infrastructure that would allow people to safely cross into the area.
Vonck also said the circle needed to remain "agnostic" and should not make a political statement through its temporary design.
He assured that a permanent design for the circle would come after a public engagement process for the "Reimagine Monument Avenue" project, though city officials said it could take years before that begins.
Members of the commission said one of their main reasons for supporting the landscaping project was so that the fencing and barricades surrounding the circle could be removed as soon as possible. Many residents along Monument Avenue have complained about the fence being an "eyesore" to the community.
The barricades were installed in June 2020. The fence was installed in January 2021. Though they were expected to be taken down by the end of 2022, that may not happen until several more months.
According to a recent newsletter from Richmond City Councilmember Katherine Jordan, whose 2nd District includes the circle, the delay is due to a lack of planting inventory this late in the planting season and "other logistical difficulties."
She said the city's Department of Public Works has not yet begun irrigation work or landscaping.
"As we go into the new year, we expect to see DPW out in the circle working on fixing the irrigation system, followed by planting and landscaping in the early spring," Jordan said.
Once that work is completed, Jordan said the fencing and jersey barriers will be removed.
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