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Confederate flag near I-95 in Stafford free to fly after county finds no zoning violation
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Confederate flag near I-95 in Stafford free to fly after county finds no zoning violation

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I-95 Confederate Flag (copy) (copy)

A large Confederate flag near Interstate 95 has spurred complaints in Stafford.

A much-disputed Confederate flag that stands on private property does not violate Stafford County’s zoning ordinance and can continue to fly high above Interstate 95, county officials have determined.

The Virginia Flaggers, a group that raises roadside Confederate battle flags around the state, put up the Stafford flag in 2014. While officials fielded some initial complaints, protests by white nationalists carrying the flag in Charlottesville in August ignited the most recent—and most public—objections. For weeks, the flag dominated public comments during meetings of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.

On Sept. 19, county attorney Charles Shumate stated Stafford could not legally force the flag’s removal. That same day, at least two people, including Garrisonville attorney Patricia Healy and Stafford resident Patricia Joshi, filed a zoning complaint contending the flag was actually a sign that violated the county’s zoning ordinance.

County staff investigated the claim and determined that there had been no zoning violation, Stafford Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Harvey told Joshi in a voicemail late last month. Joshi recently shared the message with The Free Lance–Star.

Harvey did not elaborate on the decision and county officials did not respond Tuesday to an inquiry about the determination.

In her Sept. 19 complaint, Healy, who is also a member of the Stafford School Board, wrote that the flag was designed to promote “services, beliefs, events and activities of the Virginia Flaggers,” an organization that has put up more than two dozen roadside Confederate flags and solicits donations on its website and Facebook page.

Because signs in the zoning district where the flag flies can stand no more than six feet high, “our firm suggests this structure is an illegal sign,” according to a copy of the complaint provided to The Free Lance–Star.

The flagpole in question is 80 feet tall.

Joshi said she was disappointed in the county’s finding, but that more challenges to the flag are likely.

Shumate, the county attorney, has said that the Confederate flag is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. The Virginia Flaggers legally obtained a permit from the county to raise the flag.

Any future action by the county to set limits on flag heights would not affect the one visible from I–95. It would be grandfathered under the existing ordinance, Shumate has said.

Kristin Davis: 540/374-5403 kdavis@freelancestar.com

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