A memorial to the victims of communism got a unanimous nod from the Washington area's planning commission yesterday, but the board reached a somewhat rancorous impasse on plans for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial visitors center.
Arguing that the nation's capital has memorials to many wars but not to the Cold War, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has worked for a dozen years to get a monument built on the triangular park at Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues in Northwest Washington.
The National Capital Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to the design, a paved plaza with a granite seating wall, trees and a towering bronze version of the "Goddess of Democracy," which Chinese students erected in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
"This will be a very nice addition to the area," said David Hamilton, the planning commission's project coordinator, who said the design was consistent with similar, pocket-park monuments in the area, including ones to Mohandas K. Gandhi and Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia.
Lee Edwards, chairman of the foundation, said funding for the memorial to the approximately 100 million people killed or tortured under communist rule "speeded up nicely" after the site was approved in April.
He said that the foundation has about 70 percent of the $600,000 needed to build the memorial and that he believes the project will be fully funded by the start of 2006 and ready for the commission's final approval.
The road will be rockier for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, whose members squirmed for hours yesterday while the commission debated various sites for a visitors center, slated to be an underground facility to supplement the Wall, on the west side of the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.
Backers of the project want it on the patch of lawn north of the Lincoln Memorial. The National Park Service backed that plan and the site received reluctant approval -- with many caveats from the other group involved in such decisions, the Commission of Fine Arts.
Yesterday, planning commission members were at loggerheads over the site. The commission's staff recommended against the proposed site because they said it is too close to the Lincoln Memorial, it sets a precedent for allowing new projects on the Mall and the scope of the project may be obtrusive and damage the area's historic trees.
They asked the visitors center's organizers to consider other sites, including a grassy knoll north of the Wall in Constitution Gardens, near the Park Service's stables on the other side of the Reflecting Pool and between the Department of Interior south building and Constitution Avenue.
One planning commission member argued that the Mall doesn't need more memorials to war. Another said that the beauty of the Wall is in its ambiguity and that a visitors center could make conclusions on the war that not all people will agree on.
And another reminded them that Congress mandated that the center be built and asked fellow members to make a decision.
But in the end, the commission deadlocked and asked the visitors center's planners to come back with more ideas.