Town dissects housing proposal

Published 1:47 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Cash proffers, housing styles and the “unremarkable” Pierceville house were the top concerns hashed out during a work session between the Smithfield Town Council and the developer of the proposed Cary and Main subdivision.

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Town council members were concerned about the amount proffered by Heardon MC Builders LLC, which at $2,496 per lot, is less than the $7,675 suggested by Isle of Wight County.

William Darden, managing member for Hearndon, said he wouldn’t budge.

“I put forth a number that’s realistic and works in our economy,” Darden said.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Town council member Milton Cook said the town has a responsibility to help Isle of Wight County with the expenses that the proffers are geared to address  — education, public safety and other basic services.

“I don’t see the town subsidizing the difference to the county,” Cook said.

On the table are plans for 151 single family homes on 58 acres on what was once the Pierceville farm, considered one of the most historic pieces of property in downtown Smithfield. The centerpiece is the circa 1730 Dutch-roofed house now owned by an elderly Mary Delk Crocker, who moved out last year after years of dispute with the town and county over restoration her historic home. 

The proposed development has also generated a good deal of opposition from residents of nearby and upscale Goose Hill and others in the historic district.

There was some discussion of the house being used as part of the cash proffers, and if so, would bump up the contribution to about $7,000 per lot.

“I’m seeing the house and the proffers as being a tangled mess,” said councilman Mike Smith.

Darden said that if he paid the full proffer suggested by the county, it would nearly equal the amount he’s paying for the property. The property is offered at $2 million and if full proffers were paid, Hearndon would pay about $1.5 million.

That hardly seems fair, Darden said.

As for the house, Darden said it was “savable,” but while the Colonial-era home was “remarkable” in its day, it’s “unremarkable” in the 21st century

“Inside are three rooms down and three rooms up. That’s it,” Darden said, adding he’s doubtful he could recoup the investment.

Melissa Venable with Land Planning Solutions, and who is representing the developer, said the house could probably fetch around $200,000 on the residential market, given its square footage.

Councilman Randy Pack said that even if the house was part of the cash proffer per lot, that money doesn’t go anywhere.

Cook agreed.

“That house is a burden for everyone. It sucks money from everyone,” he said, adding that it’s hard to consider its restoration as part of the cash proffers.

The housing styles were another major concern with council members, as they pointed out that homes in the historic district were of vastly different styles, sizes and only a handful had front-loading garages.

Cook said that the Pierceville property was the last large lot available for development in the historic district and variety was key.

Darden said the houses are designed to fit what today’s buyer is looking for, and that Hearndon has gone a long way to enhance the variety of styles.

“But at the end of the day, there’s only so many ways to put the box together, he said.

Councilman Andrew Gregory got more specific, asking about chimneys, slab versus crawl space foundations and the appeal of a wrap-around porch.

Darden pointed out that people want slab foundations now because they allow far less moisture in, chimneys and fireplaces are expensive and no one wants them anymore. Hearndon hasn’t built a brick fireplace since the early 1990s, he said.

As for front-loading garages, ““It’s almost insane to build a house without an attached garage today,” Darden said.

“Ultimately, I’m a businessman,” he added.

Councilwoman Denise Tynes asked if Hearndon were concerned with recent layoffs, the amount of development approved and on the move in Carrollton, as well as the fact that younger people are not moving to Isle of Wight County.

They’ll take $50,000 right out of school, but the younger people are looking for six figures elsewhere, said Tynes.

Darden said he was concerned about those issues, but believed he could find 30 people a year to buy a house priced at what the Cary and Main houses would be priced at — from about $240,000 to $320,000.

Milton said that could be the problem for millennials now in Isle of Wight County — lack of affordable housings.

The council also discussed the necessity of sending each new unit before the Board of Historic and Architectural Review, as well as putting the part of the development that now lies outside the historic district into the historic district.

Other concerns were traffic and the potential impact on schools, given the amount of homes already approved in the Carrollton area, as well as traffic to and from the development.

Venable pointed out that younger buyers want a “walkable” environment, while Darden said the influx of residents could bring more businesses downtown other than antique stores.

“It (downtown Smithfield) is a charming asset but it can be charming for everyone,” he said.

Cook said the goal of the meeting was to see if the development was to “see if it’s something we can envision being there.”

The Cary and Main development is scheduled for discussion at the Jan. 5 Smithfield Town Council meeting. {/mprestriction}