Kristin Davis, The Free Lance-Star, September 25, 2017
A mammoth Confederate flag visible to travelers along Interstate 95 in Stafford County is an illegal sign that should come down, according to a zoning complaint filed by a Garrisonville lawyer.
“I have concluded, without equivocation, this county has no legal authority to require the removal of that Confederate flag from that private property,” County Attorney Charles Shumate said during a Board of Supervisors meeting Sept. 19.
Shumate said the Confederate flag is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. Any new laws the board might pass to limit the height and size of flags in the future would not affect the one already flying high above I–95.
“The flagpole would be grandfathered,” he said.
The zoning complaint, which was sent to The Free Lance–Star this week, disputes neither of Shumate’s statements. Instead, it argues that the flag, by the county’s own definition, is actually a sign, and signs in the zoning district where the flag flies can be no more than six feet in height, according to the complaint. The pole in question stands 80 feet tall.
“Our firm suggests that this structure is an illegal sign, because it exceeds the maximum height limitations for such signage,” states the document filed by Patricia Healy, a partner in the Stafford law firm of Leming and Healy and a member of the Stafford School Board.
“That’s a creative approach,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Milde. “It sounds to me like an attempt to hinder free speech. But I’m not a lawyer. We’ll let a lawyer figure that out.”
A sign by the county’s definition is “any object, device, display, or structure” that can be seen from a public place or public right-of-way and “is designed and used to attract attention to an institution, organization, business, product, service, event or location.”
Reached by phone, Healy said only that the complaint speaks for itself.
“Stafford County needs to take immediate action to compel the flag to be rebuilt in order that it is no higher than permitted under the sign regulations,” the complaint concludes.