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Historical group sues for removal of Lee statue

November 12, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Circuit Court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 19 on a lawsuit that would force the removal of a 24-foot bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee near Antietam National Battlefield.

William Chaney of Lothian, Md., a descendant of the Confederate leader, had the statue of Lee on his horse built next to his Newcomer House Civil War Museum property off Md. 34. The statue was dedicated in June.

On April 30, the Save Historic Antietam Foundation Inc., a group of more than 500 people opposed to the statue, appealed a March 31 decision by the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals approving the project's site plan.

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The board ruled that the Washington County Historic District Commission made an administrative error because it did not respond within 45 days to Chaney's request for a permit.

The Historic District Commission voted Dec. 4, 2002, against the statue, which its members said was historically inappropriate for the site because it did not fit the aesthetics of the property. Some members said the property was a farmstead during the Civil War. That decision was made in writing on Dec. 12.

In its court appeal of the Board of Zoning Appeals decision, the foundation says the county did not violate the 45-day requirement, that the board's decision should be reversed and the statue removed.

At the heart of the appeal is the question of when the 45-day clock starts ticking: The foundation says the requirement began when Stephen Goodrich, the county's chief senior planner, submitted the application to the Historic District Commission on Nov. 8.

But the Board of Zoning Appeals said the key date is Oct. 22, when Chaney submitted his application to the Washington County Planning Commission.

R. Bruce Poole, Chaney's attorney, did not return phone calls Tuesday.

But Poole, in his filing, says he finds it "incredible" that the foundation would argue the application was not "received" by the commission until Nov. 8, considering Goodrich works for both the historic district and planning commissions.

Some of the critics of the statue, including historian Dennis Frye and Tom Clemens, have said the statue is not historically accurate. Clemens, the group's president, has said Lee rarely was on his horse while in the Sharpsburg area because he had broken one wrist and sprained the other.

Chaney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Chaney has said he originally was going to erect three statues - of Lee, and Generals J.E.B. Stuart and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson - but he scaled back that plan when he encountered objections from local residents.

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