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Council sends honorary street names to committee

Charlottesville has sent a slew of honorary street name requests to the city’s Historic Resources Committee for its review.

At its virtual meeting earlier this week, the council voted 4-1 to send outstanding requests and the honorary street naming policy to the committee.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker cast the dissenting vote, saying the council should have been able to act on some of the recommendations.

Honorary street names do not change the name of the street. Rather, brown signs with the honorary designation are placed near signs with the actual street name.

Councilor Lloyd Snook proposed using the committee to consider names and pointed out that the council has discussed the re-namings during its last two meetings after 11 p.m.

“We’ve already constituted this body to do this kind of thing,” he said. “We’ve got them there, let’s use them.”

Last month, the council voted to suspend its honorary street naming policy and accept proposals for new names through Aug. 31. At the time, councilors had been considering an honorary street name downtown to recognize the Black Lives Matter movement.

Afterward, the city received 13 applications. Two of those were approved at the council’s last meeting.

Walker said the city had created an expectation that it would be approving names to honor the Black community.

Councilor Heather Hill countered that the council has made it clear it cannot deal with recommendations on an ongoing basis. She said using the committee also would help remove perceptions of bias in the process.

“I feel like, right now, it’s gotten too personal,” she said. “I want to remove this body from that process and add one layer at least.”

Walker said she thought the council should be able to at least act on Charles Alexander’s request.

Alexander, known in his educational work with children as Mr. Alex-Zan, originally sought to designate Fourth Street Northwest between West Main Street and Preston Avenue as Black History Pathway. It was revised to Wyatt Johnson Way (Black History Pathway) over concerns it didn’t fit the existing policy.

Fourth Street Northwest is adjacent to the Jefferson School in the former Vinegar Hill neighborhood, a predominately African American area the city razed in the 1960s.

Snook said the city should continue to consider true renamings of several streets. Councilor Michael Payne noted that former Councilors Wes Bellamy and Mike Signer had been working on a proposal to examine unnamed city properties and come up with 12 properties to name in honor of those who fought for social justice.

City spokesman Brian Wheeler said he was in meetings with Bellamy, Signer, former Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy and Charlene Green, former manager of the Office of Human Rights, about the process last year but that next steps weren’t finalized. Murphy and Green have since resigned and Bellamy and Signer didn’t seek re-election, so Wheeler is the only remaining official who was involved in those meetings.

Wheeler provided some notes from the meetings about the proposals. The group considered creating a list of 40 to 50 people who could be honored while gathering summary information on places that are already named after people. The group also discussed ways to involve the community, such as an open house.

The Historic Resources Committee will review the honorary naming proposals, examine the policy and provide a recommendation to the council at a future meeting.


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