City Council starts process to rename Lee Bridge and other Confederate memorials

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/25/2020, 6 p.m.
Legal tangles continue to block removal of state-owned statues honoring Confederate Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue and in the ...

Legal tangles continue to block removal of state-owned statues honoring Confederate Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue and in the State Capitol.

But Richmond City Council took the first step Monday night toward stripping the slavery-defending general’s name from a key bridge over the James River — the first legal step in removing Confederate symbols, names and memorials that litter the city.

In a unanimous vote, the council approved 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch’s resolution instructing Lenora Reid, the city’s interim chief administrative officer, to start a renaming process that would include the public.

Other steps could quickly follow.

Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, who is recuperating from an injury and did not participate, has submitted a renaming resolution for the portion of U.S. 1 in South Side known as Jefferson Davis Highway, in tribute to the former Confederate president.

That resolution is considered likely to pass on Monday, July 27. Ms. Trammell is calling for that stretch of road to be renamed Richmond Highway.

The council also is considering meeting at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, July 1, to introduce legislation to remove the remaining Confederate statues the city owns. The late-night/early-morning meeting would come just a minute after a new state law goes into effect allowing local governments to take down such statues.

Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District, is teaming with Mayor Levar M. Stoney on the legislation.

Ahead of the legislation, Richmond protesters already have toppled three Confederate statues, including the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue.

Ms. Lynch said she has received calls from people urging elimination of Confederate names from public honor. She cited an African-American constituent who has always wondered why the city would name the bridge for a traitorous general. The bridge was dedicated to Gen. Lee when it opened in 1934, and the council made no move to rename it when a new bridge replaced it in 1989.

In other business, City Council authorized the Stoney administration to market the former Public Safety Building on 9th Street near City Hall.

The city hopes to issue requests for proposals from developers and plans to begin negotiations with a private group that proposes replacing the aging and decaying building with a 17-story, mixed-use, taxable development that would provide medical offices for Virginia Commonwealth University and space for two hotels to serve relatives of those undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Also, the council voted 6-1, with one abstention, to approve regulations for hotel- like short-term rentals of housing.

Dr. Jones abstained. Ms. Lynch cast the lone vote against the ordinance that allows homeowners to secure a permit to rent their primary residence to visitors. Ms. Lynch objected to the fact that investors who have bought homes and converted them to short-term rentals could be wiped out.

They could not legally operate such properties without obtaining a special use permit, city officials said.

By some estimates, as much as 80 percent of current short-term rentals are owned and managed by investors who have converted single-family homes.

Councilman Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, voted for the measure despite being disappointed that owners who rent their property would not have to pay transient lodge tax to the city as hotels and motels now do.