Judges reject appeal of lawsuit over removal of Asheville monument
A three-judge panel in the N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the City of Asheville in a lawsuit brought by a historic preservation group over the city’s work to remove the Zebulon Vance Monument in the city’s Pack Square Park.
Judges John Arrowood, Donna Stroud, and April Wood upheld a lower court decision that the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, Inc. did not prove that the city breached its contract with the group when it dismantled the monument.
The plaintiffs raised more than $115,000 over three years to pay for the monument’s restoration in 2015. They produced a donation agreement in which the city agreed to take the group’s donation to pay for the work. Six years later, in May 2021, Asheville City Council voted to remove the monument.
“Nowhere in the donation agreement did defendant City grant any ownership rights in the Vance Monument to plaintiff,” Arrowood wrote for the court. “The Donation Agreement specifically contemplated a limited scope and duration. As defendant City aptly puts it, plaintiff’s complaint seeks ‘to read into the Donation Agreement a fifth obligation with which the City would be required to comply: maintaining the Vance Monument in place for all eternity.’”
Work to remove the monument was halted back in June by the Court of Appeals as it undertook consideration of the plaintiffs’ arguments. It has remained a worksite, with just the bottom of the monument intact surrounded by stones, after Asheville and Buncombe County were ordered to immediately halt removal and retain all pieces of the monument until a decision was issued.
The plaintiffs argued that in taking their donation to restore the monument the city was creating a long-term agreement, beyond the restoration, and removing the monument was a breach of that contract. The court disagreed.
“None of these arguments establish a legal injury suffered by plaintiff sufficient to establish standing,” Arrowood wrote. “Although plaintiff has filed a Petition with the Historical Commission, the Petition taken together with defendant City’s decision to remove the Vance Monument do not legally injure plaintiff. The Petition is a matter for the Historical Commission to consider and is not before the trial court or this Court.”
The monument was erected in 1887 in recognition of Civil War colonel, N.C. governor, U.S. senator, and Buncombe County native Zebulon B. Vance, who later died in 1894. The 2015 restoration funded by the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops included cleaning and repairing the monument, but also removing a time capsule that contained the Colored Enterprise newspaper from 1887. No other known copy of this African American newspaper from Asheville during that time has survived. When the monument was rededicated in 2015, a new time capsule was installed in the cornerstone to commemorate the history and culture of Asheville. It was supposed to be opened in 2115.