RICHMOND, Va. -- The barricades and fencing surrounding the circle which used to house a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee won't be removed for at least several more months, according to a city official.
The barricades, covered in graffiti, profanity, and anti-police messaging, were installed two years ago. The fence was put up a year-and-a-half ago, and neighbors told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers it's time for them to go.
During a Wednesday stroll on his scooter, Kristopher Tyson-Blair rode past the empty piece of land at the center of the Monument Avenue and North Allen Avenue traffic circle -- an area that remains closed to the public.
“It's upsetting because I used to come over here with friends," Tyson-Blair said. "We would walk around a circle, whatever, and hang out around the statue.”
Tyson-Blair, who lives near Monument Avenue, said he's "concerned" that the barriers give the impression that the area isn't safe.
“It’s a real shame that it has to be like this," he said.
The barricades went up in June 2020 amid consistent protests against racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd. The land was owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia at the time and state officials said the barricades were meant to protect the safety of those who were speaking out as well as the statue itself.
The fencing was installed in January 2021. State officials said the fence aimed to add an extra layer of safety as the Commonwealth prepared to remove the statue and was "not intended to be permanent."
At the time, Capitol Police told CBS 6 that officers were responding to "constant calls for service" throughout the summer, fall, and winter. Police said some people intentionally set fires in the circle, and neighbors routinely expressed safety concerns.
The Lee statue was removed from its pedestal in September 2021.
The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled the Commonwealth had the power to do so after a lengthy legal battle aiming to block the statue's removal. Governor Ralph Northam (D - Virginia) said, at the time, the graffiti-covered pedestal would remain.
The Lee pedestal was disassembled and removed in December 2021.
Northam announced the base would be taken apart, a change from what he said in September after Republican Governor Youngkin won the November election.
Northam then transferred ownership of the Lee Circle from the Commonwealth to the City of Richmond.
Fast forward to June 2022, and neighbors said they were confused as to what's taking so long to remove the barricades and fencing.
“I would say, the sooner the better, take it down. It's been barricaded since I've been here, and it's been almost a year," said Jodi Dhingra, who lives across the street.
While she called the fencing an "eyesore," she said the barricade's graffiti represented important history and should be preserved. Then, she'd like to see the space utilized again.
“It was a gathering space for a lot of individuals, a community garden, and I'm definitely looking forward to them opening it back up," she said.
Jim Nolan, a spokesperson for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, said the circle won't reopen until "sometime in the fall."
Nolan said city officials are waiting for the grass to be established and repairs to the irrigation system.
“It makes no sense, honestly," Tyson-Blair said.
Tyson-Blair wondered if the reopening timeline has anything to do with concerns over crowds. During 2020 protests near the Lee statue, demonstrators sometimes clashed with police.
In one instance in June 2020, protesters were tear-gassed by Richmond Police.
In another instance in June 2020, police said protesters blocked traffic and attacked officers.
“If it gets to a point where people are coming back here causing more issues and more chaos, do they really have a reason to open it up," Tyson-Blair asked.
Nolan said the city planned to landscape the area and plant shrubbery before a long-term vision is decided as part of the Reimagine Monument Avenue project.
The redesign process will be led by the city after the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was removed from the project in December 2021, a change that was not widely communicated to the public until reported by CBS 6 in April.
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