VHCA Responds to Questions Regarding Todd Cemetery Memorial
Following our initial article on the topic, several questions emerged regarding the VHCA’s effort to restore the Todd Cemetery Memorial. The following sequence of events seeks to answer many of these questions. Photos at the bottom of the article show the Todd Cemetery Memorial under construction in the late 1980s. The Memorial Stone shown in the images was placed on the site of the Todd Cemetery in the late 1920s
- The Todd Cemetery Memorial marker (featuring a stone grave marker from the 1920’s) has been in place on private land with a public easement since 1989. The VHCA was part of a larger group that created it to honor the Todd family. Prior owners had lived peacefully with the monument and honored the public easement without incident or conflict since its creation.
- The current homeowners erected a fence blocking access to the memorial. Two separate visitors to the memorial stopped at the fence and later contacted the VHCA asking for help gaining access to the memorial.
- The VHCA spoke to the homeowners, who represented that they did not believe they had any legal obligation to allow public access. (Spring 2015)
- VHCA asked our lawyer, a Virginia-Highland resident, to examine the legality of the easement. He verified it, informed the owners of his findings, recommended they secure an independent evaluation, and offered to share his information with another lawyer of their choosing. (Summer 2015)
- Our lawyer negotiated an agreement with them: the fence would stay, and VHCA would pay for a new sign that would welcome daytime visitors and remind them to be courteous and respectful of the homeowners. VHCA announced the agreement. (Fall 2015)
- Shortly after the agreement was reached, just before Christmas, neighbors reported that the homeowners hired a contractor to destroy and remove the monument and wrought iron fence surrounding it.
- VHCA board members visited the site and confirmed the report of the damage. (Christmas, 2015)
- Contacted by our attorney, the homeowners attributed the damage to “vandals,” a claim they subsequently repeated. Assuming that an invasion of private property by vandals would have generated a call to authorities, the VHCA searched for a police report and found none. (January 2016)
- The VHCA notified the Todd family, and our attorney formally asked the homeowners to rebuild the monument. We consulted with the Atlanta Police Department, who recommended a course of civil action. (January 2106)
- The VHCA Board reviewed the issue with a second attorney whose sole practice is property law. His study and view of the relevant facts and law mirrored what we had already learned. (Winter and Spring 2016)
- Rather than negotiate, the homeowners twice threatened to sue members of the VHCA board personally if we did not “leave them alone.” (Spring 2016)
- VHCA offered formal mediation as a solution to the dispute. The homeowners accepted and attended one mediation session with their attorney, the VHCA attorney, a Todd family member, and members of the VHCA board. At the mediation session, they did not deny responsibility for the destruction and suggested relocating a rebuilt monument to the front of their property, which was acceptable to the family and the VHCA. The VHCA, our attorney, and the Todd family member left optimistic that a solution might be forthcoming, and an additional mediation session was scheduled. (April-June 2016)
- The homeowners canceled the next mediation meeting and made no effort to reschedule it. After VHCA’s lawyer made repeated unsuccessful attempts to reschedule, the VHCA board voted to take legal action with the Todd family against the homeowners. A suit was filed, asking the court to order the monument’s restoration, affirm the easement, and have the owners pay our legal fees from the destruction forward. (July –August 2016)
- The VHCA worked in good faith for over a year and a half to try to settle this issue in a neighborly fashion with respect for the privacy of all the parties responsible. At each stage, we believed a settlement was both logical and probable.
- After these good-faith efforts failed – and with no alternative ever identified or proposed other than walking away from and accepting the memorial’s destruction – the VHCA (along with members of the Todd Family), after great care and deliberation, moved forward with the lawsuit.
- This historic monument was created with the support of this association, it honors the founders of our neighborhood, and its destruction is a public affront that diminishes the historic fabric of our community.
- Ignoring the destruction of the monument would have been wrong on the merits and inconsistent with the history of this association and its response to such challenges. This association has always argued that no one is above the law, and no one can take it into their own hands without consequence. This is the logical basis of all our approaches to zoning, planning, safety, and preservation.