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Goochland neighbors voice concerns over future COVID memorial

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday morning at the site of a former Goochland County golf course that a Richmond nonprofit plans to turn into a memorial for victims of COVID-19.

“‘Gardens of Tranquility’ is a place where healing begins,” said Dr Arlene Simmons, referring to the name of the planned memorial. “Whether mental, emotional, physical, spiritual or educational. We want it to be a place of peace and tranquility.

Simmons is the founder of Humanitarian Ambassadors of America Community Development Corp., a nonprofit with 25 years in Richmond, and said he bought the land earlier this year and was inspired to turn it into a COVID-19 memorial. by the children she worked with. who told him about their experiences during COVID-19.

“They chronicled the hardships of home loss, death of loved ones, health issues, depression, hunger and other challenges faced due to the COVID pandemic,” Simmons told the crowd. “In the pain of their grief, these young minds decided that it was not only important, but necessary to remember their loved ones and in an honorable and permanent way.”

Simmons said the plan is to redevelop the 151 acres in four phases with a budget of $33 million. Victims of COVID-19 will be memorialized in rock gardens and memorial walls, but Simmons said they also intend to include memorials for those who died of other health issues and children lost to them. armed violence.

“The design will feature and extend to programmatic opportunities focused on positive developmental processes for young people,” added Simmons, who said this could include things like a par 3 golf course, gardening and hiking. . “It’s a challenge if you’ve never been exposed to it, but it’s bliss when you’re exposed to it,” Simmons said.

However, anyone attending Wednesday’s ceremony would have had to pass dozens of road signs along the only road leading to the site, expressing concern or skepticism about the project.

CBS 6 spoke to some of the owners who installed the signs and they said that while the project appears to have good intentions, they have raised concerns about the amount of traffic it could bring, the ability to maintain the maintenance of the property, and said that they were not included in the conversations about the proposed plans.

Simmons said they don’t have to have those conversations because the property is not part of the homeowners association and said nothing they plan to build will be outside of the property’s current zoning. .

“It’s a rural area, everything is beautiful here. And so we don’t want to change anything, we just want to blend in,” Simmons said.

However, Simmons said when they start designing the first phase next month they will keep the county posted on what they are doing and she said neighbors will have a seat at the table.

“We want them to welcome us and invite them to be here,” Simmons said.

Simmons said they hope to have at least completed the clubhouse renovation and built a memorial garden and wall for a dedication ceremony in December.

CBS 6 also contacted Goochland County and asked about the proposal and received a written statement.

“County staff met with representatives of the Humanitarian Ambassadors of America Community Development Corporation who are proposing the COVID Memorial Garden at the former Royal Virginian Golf Course. Their representatives provided several potential future uses for the site, but no formal requests for support. “Land use has not been and no zoning approvals have been sought or given. It is too early to say what may be required until staff receive additional information,” wrote the Director of Community Affairs, Paul Drumwright “If a zoning application is filed, community meetings and public hearings are required where citizens can express their views on the application.”

“Goochland County encourages all potential applicants and new businesses and organizations to create an open dialogue and engage with the community as they move forward with proposed plans and developments,” it said. he adds.


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