Planners table Luter plan

Published 12:28 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2016

By Diana McFarland

          Managing editor

Joseph Luter IV decided to head back to the drawing board after a lengthy public hearing Sept. 27 on his plans for an events center at Aberdeen Farm.

The plan is to consider the concerns of neighbors, as well as look at combining the proposed new special use permit application with a previously held permit on an adjoining parcel on the property.

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The older permit, issued in 2004, allowed for unlimited use of the property for events and skeet shooting.

After a unanimous vote to table the issue by the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission, Luter’s amended application is expected to be heard at the Oct. 25 meeting. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The former Smithfield Foods executive wants to host weddings, corporate retreats and other events on his farm that overlooks the James River.

Immediately prior to the Sept. 27 meeting, Luter had decreased the number of events from up to 48 a year to 30, and stated that no more than 300 people would attend any event, and there will be no more than eight events with more than 50 people. The ending time remained the same at 12:30 a.m. The new proffers also state that guests will use an entrance on Days Point Road rather than a private entry known as Farm Road.  

Luter said it was county staff who had led him to put the initially high numbers on the application. Luter said the number of events is what he needs to break even on farm expenses.

“It’s a hobby. It’s that simple,” he said.

Luter also said he asked the Virginian-Pilot not to run a feature story on his plans when it did, and said he “did get ahead of himself” with the elaborate website that describes the enterprise and encourages reservations.

 “We did a horrible public relations job,” admitted Luter’s attorney, William Riddick.

Riddick said his client was not aware of the process and the need to obtain a special use permit.

Luter has already built a “lodge” with overnight facilities.  He said he hadn’t anticipated any problems because of the already existing use permit.

According to the Oct. 21, 2004 minutes from the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, Smithfield Packing Company’s application was for a special use permit for a corporate lodge or retreat and a conditional use permit for a private outdoor recreation facility, in particular a skeet shooting facility. There was no discussion of conditions. The permits received unanimous approval from the Board.

During the Sept. 27 public hearing, the boardroom was packed with Days Point residents concerned about the proposed events center in terms of increased traffic on the narrow and semi-rural Days Point Road, noise and alcohol usage and the ability of emergency vehicles to access the property.

Alan Monette, who once owned what is known locally as Monettes and had once done business with Smithfield Foods, said events held previously on Aberdeen Farm were of a civic-minded nature and very sporadic.

“I’d hate to see it go commercial,” he said.

Riddick said prior events had included “thousands of people” over the years.

Farm Road residents raised concerns about the impact of equipment trucks coming and going to events, as well as the fact that GPS routes motorists down Farm Road to reach Aberdeen Farm, based on the address provided.

The narrow Farm Road is already full of potholes. It is maintained by the residents, who point out that Luter IV has not contributed to its upkeep.

Luter said he owns the road and allows the Farm Road residents to use it.

Riddick said Farm Road would not be used by event guests, who would instead use the entrance on Days Point Road.

Also in the audience were the owners of Accelerated Properties, Josh Tawes and Anthony Stile, whose rezoning application asking for the addition of an events center as a possible use on their Monette property was denied by the county.

The issue is now the subject of a suit against the Board of Supervisors in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court.

Stile said he was interested to see how this application played out. He said it would be hypocritical of himself not to recommend approval Luter’s plan, and added that his name does not carry the same weight as a Luter.

Luter IV’s father, Joseph Luter IIII, and Smithfield Foods provided the financing for Windsor Castle Park, and helped jumpstart the South Church Street and Main Street renovations and the upcoming Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex.

Planning Commissioner William Saunders said Luter’s application differed from that of Accelerated Properties, as Luter currently has the ability to host unlimited events on the adjacent parcel.

“This is the potential to limit the use of what is already there and let the applicant enjoy his property,” said Saunders, who added that perhaps something could be put in writing about the maintenance of Farm Road.

Commissioner Brian Carroll, who is also captain of the Isle of Wight County Volunteer Rescue Squad, said there hasn’t been an issue with accessing Aberdeen Farm with emergency vehicles in the past.

Commissioner Rick Gillerlain wanted to know how the number of events would be regulated.

Interim Planning and Zoning Director Richard Rudnicki said the applicant could be required to submit quarterly or annual reports.

Commissioner Don Rosie suggested the applicant consider improvements to the Days Point entrance to make it easier to see, as well as add road lighting and shooting buffers.

The shooting buffers were a reference to concerns raised by Days Point Lane resident Ariana Boss, who said she found a shotgun pellet in the wall behind her infant’s crib on Jan. 16, 2014. It had come from hunters on the Aberdeen property, she said. Boss said she also found a bullet hole in one of her vehicles. Boss said the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office told her there was nothing they could do because no one was hurt or killed.

According to the incident report, the deputy was going to alert the game warden to do a safety check on the hunting going on nearby.

Her concern was that if nothing could be done about bullets, then what sort of response would occur with noise or other concerns related to an events center.   {/mprestriction}