RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A group of six Monument Avenue residents filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to halt Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, arguing that its removal would result in the end of “favorable tax treatment and reduction in property values” as the district would lose its National Historic Landmark designation.
The plaintiffs in the suit, longtime Monument Avenue resident Helen Marie Taylor and five other property owners who wished to remain anonymous, claim the governor’s order violates the state’s constitution and a legislative resolution adopted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1889.
“Attempts by Defendants to remove the Lee statue would damage, destroy or significantly alter the statue in violation of the terms of the deed conveying the statue, the 1889 legislative provision, and the laws of the Commonwealth,” the lawsuit states.
While the lawsuit was filed in Richmond Circuit Court, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a notice Monday that transfers it to federal court “where it is more properly heard,” a release from Herring’s office said.
Virginia’s filing states that the statue “glorifies one of the darkest periods in our Commonwealth’s and our Nation’s history and stands as a daily reminder that Virginia has not lived up to our ideals that all people are created equal. Symbols matter, and the Virginia of today can no longer honor a racist system that enslaved millions of people. Installing a grandiose monument to the Lost Cause was wrong in 1890, and demanding that it stay up forever is wrong now.”
Northam called on the state-owned statue to be removed “as soon as possible” and put in storage following protests against racism and police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Since then, each member of the Richmond City Council has expressed their support to remove the other four Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.
Monday’s lawsuit comes after two other lawsuits were filed to block the monument’s removal. A similar lawsuit filed a week ago by William C. Gregory prompted a Richmond judge to grant a 10-day injunction preventing the state from moving the statue.
A second lawsuit was filed by a Henrico resident named William Davis, claiming that the removal of the state owned monument “violates federally designated landmark law.” The lawsuit requests for the removal process to halt and to restore the statue and pedestal to the condition it was in before being tagged with graffiti amid protests.
Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors, does not believe home values would be affected.
“We do not have any evidence to suggest that the removal of the monuments would diminish property values,” Lafayette told 8News. She added that there are several variables that go into property value, like the architecture of a home and its proximity to amenities.
8News spoke with some residents along Monument Avenue who want to see the statue stay and others who want it taken down. One homeowner said they did not move to Monument Avenue for the monuments. Lafayette said that is reflected in two homes which recently went under contract.
“One home has gone under contract for 1.6 million, another has gone under contract for 1.2 million. So, again, there is something that people find attractive about Monument Avenue regardless of what is going on in the median of Monument Avenue,” she said.
One resident who did not want to go on camera said they have seen the demographic of the neighborhood change over the last several years as younger families move in. The resident believes Taylor has done some positive things for the neighborhood, but thinks she is “on the wrong side of things” with the lawsuit.