A large Confederate flag has been flying beside Interstate 85 for almost a year while the property owner and Spartanburg County fight over the flag's future.
"We, of course, support free speech and will continue to defend our Constitutional right to fly flags of our choice," said Greenville attorney Robert K. Merting on behalf of the Adam Washington Ballenger Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 68.
Merting said flying the flag is a way to honor soldiers of South Carolina who fought and died during the Civil War and other wars.
Opponents said the flag is offensive to many people.
"The flag "sends an unwelcoming message to a large group of people," said Monier Abusaft, the lone African American member of County Council. "Constituents care about how it reflects on their community."
Michael Brown, president of the Spartanburg NAACP chapter, said t he flag is an "eyesore" that should come down. He mentioned the Confederate flag being removed from the Statehouse after the killing of nine Black church members in Charleston in 2015.
"As a true son of the South who has personal and familial standing to speak about the devastation and pain that the I-85 eyesore brings to all of us, it should come down," Brown said.
Both the county and the SCV said it boils down to a land use issue and a new ordinance adopted after the flagpole was erected.
"We treat it like any other land use issue," Abusaft said. "They're out of compliance, but they want special treatment. Sorry, we don't give special treatment in Spartanburg County."
Here's how the Confederate flag dispute evolved
The SCV group raised the 30-by-50-foot Naval Jack flag atop a 120-foot tall flagpole last Oct. 22 on its property at Teaberry Road, which fronts the heavily traveled interstate near U.S. Highway 221 and Business 85. An estimated 80,400 vehicles drive past the flag each day, said the S.C. Department of Transportation.
County spokeswoman Scottie Kay Blackwell said prior to Oct. 22, a South Carolina state flag was being flown on the flagpole.
She said on Oct. 21, the day before the flag-raising ceremony, the county issued its a notice of violation to the SCV, saying a permit is required. The notice gave the SCV until Nov. 10 to comply.
"Remove the flagpole or obtain a permit for principal use and lower the flagpole to 30 feet," wrote Jay Ford, county zoning inspector.
The SCV neither obtained a permit nor lowered the flagpole, and on Nov. 29, filed a lawsuit against the county.
The SCV also appealed the notice of violation to the county's Board of Zoning Appeals.
Planning Director Joan Holliday argued the flagpole represented a change of use in the property, and the owner was required to apply for a permit, based on the county's Unified Land Management Ordinance. She said that never happened.
Zoning board member James Langford said there is no mention of a flagpole in the Unified Land Management Ordinance. SCV attorney Ethan Jedziniak said because of that, there was no need to apply for a flagpole permit.
Merting said he was told multiple times by different county officials a permit was not required for a flagpole. He said his client was cited only after complaints about the content of the flag — a Confederate flag.
On Jan. 31, the Zoning Board, then ruled in favor of SCV's appeal, stating the Planning Department erred in issuing the notice of violation. The county appealed the Zoning Board ruling to the Common Pleas Court. The SCV asked the court to dismiss the appeal. That case is pending.
Meanwhile, the SCV's lawsuit against the county claims the flagpole is in compliance with the county's zoning laws and should be grandfathered from any new regulations. In part, the lawsuit claims free speech protections because the county only sought to remove the flag after objections were raised.
The county's motion to dismiss the lawsuit is pending.
"We are waiting on the court’s ruling on the county’s motion to dismiss," county attorney Charles Turner said.
Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt, who supports the county's efforts to make the SCV comply with zoning regulations, said he is confident the county will prevail.
"It is in the hands of the court system and I trust them," Britt said.
This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: Confederate flag still flying along I-85 in Spartanburg County