A proposed Confederate memorial that would display the battle flag of the Confederacy and the Confederate states’ flags near Interstate 10 and MLK Jr. Drive in Orange, a source of much contention in 2013, remains incomplete after several months of stalled construction.
In January 2013, the city of Orange issued a building permit to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) for a tract of land purchased and donated to the organization by SCV Commander Granvel Block of Orange County. The permit would allow the group to build a Confederate memorial park at the site at 4120 S. Interstate 10 in Orange. Initially, the planned memorial would be home to 26 different Confederate flags, including the infamous battle flag, also known as the “rebel flag,” with which so many are familiar.
When some residents of Orange heard about the possibility of a memorial park displaying the symbol often associated with slavery and all its negative sentiments, they were outraged. Town hall meetings were held to discuss what steps could be taken to prevent the erection of the park and the flags, which would be visible from the interstate. Numerous residents brought their concerns to the Orange City Council and stepped up to the podium to tell city leaders in no uncertain terms they did not want the memorial in Orange.
“In 2013, we should not be faced with these types of things,” Orange resident Betty White told council members Feb. 12. “The Confederate flag, when I was growing up, was a sign of division. We didn’t celebrate that flag. We celebrated the United States flag.”
In response, city manager Shawn Oubre said the city had little control over the private property owner’s decision to build the memorial. Orange City Attorney John C. “Jack” Smith said he found the proposed memorial “repugnant,” and vowed the city would do what it could to fight it. Councilwoman Essie Bellfield expressed a similar opinion, and promised to “fight like hell” against the raising of the battle flag.
And fight they did, and in the only way they could. March 26, 2013, the city sent a letter to Block advising him that more on-site parking was needed than the original single space indicated in the original construction plans. April 9, the city sent Block a second letter specifying the site would require an additional eight parking spaces, and two parking spaces meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Then later the same month, the city approved a resolution condemning the location and building of the memorial and enacted an ordinance restricting the size of flags and flagpoles.
Block then expressed the desire to make the memorial “visual only,” eliminating the necessity for any parking spaces. In order to make that change, Block was told the structure would have to be surrounded by a fence. In response, Block’s attorney Joseph Ginn sent the city a letter threatening legal action against the city for interfering with previously permitted construction and for violating Block’s rights.
“We hereby request that your continued harassment of Mr. Block and his efforts to complete this project cease, or we shall be forced to determine what remedies are available to Mr. Block in any county, state or federal venue for the unwarranted violation of his constitutional rights,” the letter read.
On June 17, the city responded with its own letter to Ginn stating there was no violation of rights and Block’s project was subject to the same requirements as any other, specifically citing the 2003 International Building Code Section 106.2 Site Plan and City Ordinance Chapter 12.7 Planning and Zoning. The letter also conceded that no parking would be required if a fence surrounded the memorial.
Since then, Oubre said, there has been no movement by Ginn, and it appears as though construction has ceased. The memorial has changed little over the last several months. The beginnings of columns that were to represent the 13 Confederate states and steps leading up to the monument can be seen upon inspection of the incomplete structure, but little headway has been made to complete the memorial since late April. Construction materials are piled up around the project site, and weeds can be seen peeking through from in between concrete columns lying on their sides in the grass, obviously untouched for months.
A call to Ginn was not immediately returned, and there is no word yet as to where Block and the SCV stand on the matter or whether construction has halted for good.
Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or e-mail sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.