Dear Councilperson Gray and other friends
Please find enclosed a petition of over 350 signatures of people opposed to the damage that has been done to the tree canopy of Monroe Park, Richmond’s oldest and most historic municipal park.
During the park’s period of historic significance, there were 362 trees of 26 varieties in the park. When the approved Monroe Park master plan was conceived, the park was down to 155 trees due to natural causes and lack of consistent maintenance and planting. Currently, there are less than a hundred trees in the park, many destroyed through actions violating established city policy. Even after trees that are planned to be planted are put in, there will be approximately one third as many trees as during the period of historic significance. This damage has been caused by a departure from the approved master plan and work documents through piecemeal alterations advocated in the last year by the City of Richmond on behalf of the Monroe Park Conservancy. The resulting damage cannot be corrected for at least a generation even if a comprehensive tree restoration plan were to be immediately enacted.
The approved Monroe Park master plan (2008) was celebrated for its community inclusivity and exhaustive research into the historic value of the park and was assembled by city council appointed community representatives with the assistance of the firm Rhodeside and Harwell at a cost of over 700,000 dollars to the taxpayers of the city of Richmond. It is tragic that it has been recently superseded by such a radical departure.
The approval of a 30 year lease to the the private Monroe Park Conservancy has turned out to be a tragic mistake and has served the city of Richmond poorly.
In closing, may I remind you all that the taxpayers of Richmond have invested well over 4.53 million dollars on this “renovation” and yet are denied legitimate representation on the MPC executive board, even though VCU has three seats and a seat was recently added for Dominion Energy. This lack of community representation violates the spirit of council approved resolution 2014-R64-64. It is notable, councilperson Gray, that both you and the Mayor’s chief of staff are sitting board members of the Monroe Park Conservancy.
It is in the best interest of the city of Richmond to consider dissolving the lease agreement and for city council to appoint a community based board to advise the city on Monroe Park matters.
Charles Todd Woodson
(Editor’s note- The Sierra Club Falls of the James previously called for termination of the lease)
Letter from neighbor:
Dear Richmond Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission
Monroe Park was once a beautiful public park with its most delightful feature being its vibrant urban tree canopy. Now, under the guidance of a few individuals, it has lost much of its beautiful urban forest which previously served as an aesthetic wonder, habitat for animals and the proverbial “lungs” of our city. The city under the direction of the Monroe Park Conservancy is now requesting to forego planting 8 more trees that were included in the approved master plan and replacing them with planters in order to increase the surveillance scope from cameras attached to the Checkers House soffit. This is unacceptable and I respectfully ask that this request for approval of the tree deletion be denied.
Charles T Woodson
Richmond Va 23220
The tree removal request will be heard THIS THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5th at 10am at the Urban Design Committee meeting. Please sign and share!
New petition on Change.org
From local history buff Fred Rogers:
Tom Robbins, the well known novelist (author of several published works including “Another Roadside Attraction” and “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”) is a 1959 graduate of Richmond Professional Institute (VCU’s Monroe Park campus predecessor). During his last year at the school he served as editor and writer of the RPI student newspaper, the Proscript. His column that school year was entitled “Robbin’s Nest” and then “Walks on the Wild Side.” Robbins was concerned about the future of Monroe Park, threatened by corporate and political interests, to write about the park in the March 12, 1959 issue of the student paper. Below is an image of his column about Monroe Park. Here’s the link to the issue (download the file as a PDF):
Re-post from neighbor Todd Woodson in the Fans of Monroe Park FaceBook group:
There was a free show in Monroe Park on June 1, 1969 including the Richmond debut of the band Child featuring a young Bruce Springsteen. They did 3 songs before, as I recall, they got shut down by police at the urging of the residents of the Prestwould. The songs played were Voodoo Child, Jennifer and Crown Liquor. This photo, courtesy of BruceBase was supposedly taken of the Boss at Monroe Park at the 1969 show. They would return to Monroe Park on July 18, 1971 as the Bruce Springsteen Band…
There was a great piece of reporting this week from the Richmond Free Press on Monroe Park financial wrangling. From reporter Jeremy Lazarus:
After telling City Council in December that the projected $6 million Monroe Park project — half to be paid by private donations — had adequate funding, the city’s chief administrative officer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, quietly shifted $833,569 to the project in recent months from reportedly unused capital funds.
The shift was made without notice to City Council and was disclosed as the result of queries from Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, and the council’s budget staff.
Mr. Agelasto also was surprised to learn that nearly half of the money shifted, $394,000, was listed as coming from two paving projects in his district that already had been completed and paid for — one involving Allen Avenue and the other involving paving at Meadow Street, Colorado Avenue and Harrison Street.
As the article mentions, this vindicates City Council’s amendment to Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s proposed budget that requires the administration to seek council approval before shifting funds between programs in major departments. Despite some previous editorials’ characterizations, City Council is not ‘overreaching’ by trying to get a handle on the City’s finances. (Special appreciation to 5th District Councilperson Agelasto for his dogged questioning.)
On the other hand, these revelations reflect City Council’s poor judgement in turning historic Monroe Park over to the Monroe Park Conservancy in the first place. Many citizens and the Sierra Club Falls of the James have previously called for a termination of the Conservancy’s lease and a return to public investment and public oversight of renovations of this public park. Many are questioning why corporations seem to have special tent rights for park use. While it’s too late to save many park trees, it’s not too late for City Council to do the right thing.
The City’s Planning Commission yesterday ignored the recommendation of the Urban Design Committee and the staff of the planning department to consider alternatives to cutting down the magnolia and maple trees in Monroe Park for temporary tents.
On Sunday, at the Monument Avenue Easter Parade, the Sierra Club Falls of the James collected many petition signatures in favor of saving the the trees.
It will be really awful if the City continues to ignore PUBLIC concern for trees on PUBLIC property.
The photo below of the maple tree was previously published in the Times Dispatch:
After prolonged discussion between local history groups, the City government, and the Monroe Park Conservancy, plans are reportedly coming together for the staging of a historic reenactment of World War I trench warfare in Monroe Park this coming Thursday. This event will correspond with other World War I centennial commemoration events happening throughout the Commonwealth.
As one third-party observer put it:
After so much controversy regarding the taking down of trees and beginning of serious renovations for Monroe Park, I guess they thought they should make lemonade out of lemons and invite hobbyists and re-enactors to make use of the current state of the park by demonstrating the World War One innovation of trench warfare. They want to increase and diversify uses of the park going forward and in their ongoing conversations with the City, this was suggested as an educational opportunity for Richmond.
A local design firm has been engaged to set up barbwire and pillbox forts around perimeters, but they are still waiting for decisions on the use of replica tanks and inert mustard gas.
There will be some corporately-sponsored V.I.P. tents set up and rented during the event, which should help make Monroe Park a profit center and encourage the privatization of other public City parks.
The announcement of the reenactment event has already brought different responses. A gaggle of Oregon Hill residents have vowed to bring an old-style protest along Main Street, while some elderly Prestwould Condominium residents, a few of whom still have personal recollections of WWI, look forward to their bird’s eye view of the spectacle. ‘White helmets’ are organizing to protect nearby homeless.
Interestingly enough, the City’s Urban Design Committee is scheduled to meet this same Thursday, and while trench warfare is not on the agenda, some new Monroe Park plans are.
This past Tuesday at the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Organization meeting there was a design presentation on a proposal for Monroe Park. The response has not been favorable and neighbors are urging concerned citizens to send comments in to Urban Design Committee about this proposal. An opposition letter from OHNA is forthcoming.
From one neighbor:
URGENT!! This Thursday morning, April 6th, the Urban Design Committee will decide on an application to replace a children’s resource center in Monroe Park with a corporate event center call “Laurel Street Venue”. They also want to destroy two more healthy mature trees in the process. Please email the UDC secretary Joshua.Son@richmondgov.com to register your objection. There is a sample letter below you are welcome to copy. Please act NOW!!!
From WRIR radio show Open Source RVA:
Open Source RVA has been following the progress of the Monroe Park renovation for more than three years, and our next episode will explore breaking news on the controversial dealings of the private Monroe Park Conservancy, which has been given control of the park. Here is former Monroe Park Advisory Council member, and Sierra Club Green Giant award-winner, Todd Woodson on a hastily-scheduled meeting that is happening next week that would apparently (no pun intended) cover up the destruction of healthy trees in the park. He also has a call-to-action:
“As you’ve probably noticed, the historic tree canopy in Monroe Park has recently been decimated by the removal of mature healthy trees. Last December, 14 beautiful trees were destroyed illegally- 7 without the requisite variances and 7 after being declared dead, although photographic evidence refutes that claim.
Now, in typical Richmond form, there is an application before the Richmond Urban Design Committee (UDC) this Thursday, February 9, 2017 seeking approval of a component in the updated Monroe Park Plan called “Tree Removal Plan” – this “plan” seeks to legitimize this tragic removal of tree canopy, even though the trees were destroyed over a month ago without public notice. We’ve seen the tree damage Richmond is capable of – the Redskins Training Park as well as Kanawha Plaza and the Maggie Walker Memorial live oak.
I urge you to read the following paragraph and if you agree, please sign and forward to the UDC at Kathleen.Onufer@Richmondgov.com
‘Dear members of the Urban Design Committee
I am opposed to the component in the updated Monroe Park Plan seeking approval this Thursday, February 9, 2017 entitled “Tree Removal Plan”. Mature healthy trees were removed in December 2016 with no public notice or requisite variance. I support a full investigation into this loss which is not only aesthetic and ecological, but constitutes a financial loss to the taxpayers of Richmond as well. I also support holding those accountable for the replacement of these trees. Thank you,'”
The Sierra Club Falls of the James has joined some Oregon Hill and Fan neighbors in calling for a community review and ‘recount’ of the trees that have been removed recently from Monroe Park.
As one neighbor, Turk Sties, put it,
The conservancy should be following the approved master plan. The master plan was clear on what trees would not be removed. I don't know if the removed trees were to stay per the master plan. But the plan should be followed.
Funding was obtained to effect the master plan. How can it be spent for anything else, especially for removing trees the master plan deemed integral to the rejuvenated park?
The tree work should be investigated by the city auditor to determine whether or not the conservancy has removed any trees that were to remain. If the conservancy has caused the removal of "spared" trees, the conservancy board members should be removed for cause and replaced with other people who can follow instructions. If that is not possible, it is time to require the addition of three "at-large" board members who can represent the citizens' interest.
On the national front, the courageous Jill Stein continues to push forward for recounts of Presidential ballots in key swing states, despite setbacks. Using fundraised money, the state recount efforts have not found evidence of foreign actors, but have found many systematic problems. Perhaps the most troubling of these is a preponderance of undercounting in predominantly black Michigan districts.
At the same time, Clinton emerged to condemn ‘fake news sites’, while some established newspapers have published unverified, anonymous CIA leaks that claim Russian intervention in the election. Regardless of veracity, foreign agents installing a right-wing leader? You can almost hear other countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Iran singing in their best Bob Dylan (and for the record, I am not a big fan) voice, “How does it feeeeeel?” As Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept put it, it’s also “a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.”
How will this all be sorted out going forward? Not sure, but in my book, trees and votes do matter and deserve more attention.