I-85 Confederate flag will stay put for now, as Board of Zoning Appeals votes in favor of property owners

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 10:52 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The legal battle over a large Confederate flag flying over I-85 continued Tuesday in Spartanburg’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. But the argument isn’t over the flag itself---its about whether or not the owners have authority to place the flagpole on this property in the first place.

This is a debate that’s been going on for months now. The county ordered property owners to remove the flagpole because it violated an ordinance. Then the owners appealed that decision. We heard the owners argument Tuesday —which in the end was compelling enough for the board to vote against the county’s decision.

“What matters is, is that flagpole is in compliance with our ordinances” asked Board member Thomas Davies during the meeting.

That was one of several questions debated during the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. Fueling over an hour of contentious back and forth.

At one point, board member Angela Geter asked “if this property is not being used for anything then why do they need a flagpole on it?”

Board member Glenda Brady replied “because it’s American if they want to put a flagpole on it they can put a flagpole on it.”

“And based upon that argument, America also says they need a permit” replied Geter.

Spartanburg County leaders say property owners, Sons of Confederate Veterans’ organization, violated a county ordinance by placing this flagpole without the proper permits.

“All this is doing is stifling free speech. If you put a flagpole on land it doesn’t do anything except produce speech and expression,” said Ethan Jedziniak, an attorney representing property owners.

owners say they have plans to make the area a park, alternating flags to show state history. Their attorneys argued the ordinance does not name a flagpole specifically as something needing a permit. They claim the county building codes department told them they didn’t need one.

“There was nary a word said at an empty flagpole, there was nary a word said when we displayed the South Carolina flag, it was only when we put up an unpopular banner that suddenly we had a problem,” said another attorney representing the owners.

Board members discussed if county council made a mistake by ordering the flag be removed.

“I don’t argue they can put whatever they want to put there as long as they have a permit,” said Geter.

While the county attorney and planning director argued in favor of council, saying even something as minor as leveling the ground requires a permit---the majority of board members felt differently. 5 to 3, they voted in favor of the property owners, rejecting the council’s violation claim.

It’s still unclear what happens now that they’ve voted against the council’s decision. We’re working to learn more. The flag and pole will remain, for now.