Enhancing the image

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Town wants T-shirts for residents, smiles for tourists

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

The Smithfield Town Council wants to help residents be nice to tourists and wear “I love Smithfield” T-shirts. It also wants to implement a town-wide maintenance code and create a “family-friendly” non-alcohol fueled happening with Smithfield VA Events on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. 

Those were three of the Town Council’s priorities revealed July 23 at a Town Council committee meeting. They are designed to guide the town for the next 20 years, according to Mayor Carter Williams in a letter sent to residents before the specifics were revealed. 

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However, when and how those priorities were devised and developed has been a bit confusing. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Town Council member Mike Smith indicated that staff was working up 31 priorities at a recent State of the County luncheon, but did not reveal any further details. 

Williams said he didn’t know what the 31 priorities were when asked about them in days following the luncheon. 

However, Council members Beth Haywood and Valerie Butler said this week that the Council developed the priorities as part of its vision during a Williamsburg retreat back in mid-March. 

Haywood said that Town Council set out the 31 priorities, then town staff developed an implementation plan for each one. Butler said that the priorities will go before Town Council at their Aug. 6 meeting for a vote to adopt them. 

Community Pride 

To boost Smithfield pride, the staff will “develop an engagement strategy to work with residents to have them consistently reflect the town’s friendliness message,” led by Smithfield and Isle of Wight Director of Tourism Judy Winslow. Butler and Winslow both said that Smithfield has a reputation of already being friendly, and Butler said that one of her friends refers to the town as her “happy place.” Butler said the reason for prioritizing friendliness among residents was to maintain that small town, neighborly reputation. Winslow also said that the priority is an effort to maintain an already existing sense of friendliness around town. 

 The plan also calls for a boost to the town’s Hambassador program — which is a development of Smithfield and Isle of Wight Tourism that trains employees and others interested to promote local attractions to visitors. The creation of “I love Smithfield VA” T-shirts and license plates is also a priority, with fall, 2019 target dates.

The expansion of local nonprofit Smithfield VA Events, to include a family-friendly event, is also listed as a town priority. In town documents, it states that a fourth event would take place over Martin Luther King Day weekend, which is the same weekend Smithfield VA Events hosts its BOB Fest. (The town does not own or operate Smithfield VA Events, which is a non-profit corporation, but Council Member Randy Pack is its president.)

Pack said that a family-friendly event wouldn’t replace the BOB Fest, which usually occurs on a Saturday, but would occur on the Sunday following. 

Pack added that “family-friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be no alcohol provided at that event, but that the it wouldn’t be 21 and older or alcohol-themed, like the other three festivals.  

Economic Development 

Commercial development of properties in Pinewood Heights, those along Route 258 from Waterworks Road to the corner of Grace and Main streets and properties from Turner Drive to Canteberry Lane are among the town official’s top economic priorities. 

The Pinewood Heights relocation project is currently in its final phase, and the master plan sets the target date of July 2020 to start marketing the properties after they’ve been acquired by the town, demolished and rezoned.

The Wombwell House sits between Waterworks Road and Grace and Main streets, located next to the entrance of the Joseph W. Luter Jr. Sports Complex, which opened last fall. In February, representatives from the Isle of Wight County Historical Society approached Town Council to get permission to mothball the house and eventually convert it into their headquarters. The Society has since changed course and is now eying the 1820 Isle of Wight County clerk’s office as its headquarters. 

Williams said that the property where the Wombwell House sits is where a sports complex blueprint places an indoor recreation facility, and that the Society should make up its mind whether or not to preserve the Wombwell House or go with the clerk’s office. 

“If the Historical Society wants (the Wombwell House) we can strike a deal,” said Williams. 

Historical Society President Carolyn Keen declined to comment at this point in the process. 

Managed Growth and Beauty 

The strategic plan addresses increased beautification of the town through cooperation with the developers of Mallory Pointe and the Scott Farm properties, located along Battery Park Road. Those initiatives include road improvements and infrastructure updates, as well as increasing site development and identifying public and private improvements that that are required in order to develop the sites. 

Improving the town’s commercial corridors and downtown through landscaping and reducing litter is also a priority. 

In the spring, Williams said that the town was looking for an individual volunteer to coordinate a cleanup committee that would designate certain civic groups to specific areas for improvement. 

Town Manager Brian Thrower said that if no volunteer raises their hand, staff would have to find someone to do it or hire someone. 

Continued enforcement of the town’s sign ordinance appeared under this category, while town documents state that it will also be reviewed to ensure compliance with applicable state and federal laws.   

Town Community Development and Planning Director John Settle said that the objective through revisions is to streamline the temporary sign permit regulations so that getting one is more convenient for business, nonprofits and other entities while also enforcing the ordinance. 

Town staff ruffled feathers earlier this year when a number of signs were taken up from businesses and nonprofits in town without prior notice. Butler requested on July 23 that the town have a public meeting with the Isle of Wight County Chamber of Commerce so that the ordinance is clearer, and staff said that was possible. 

Other managed growth and beautification priorities include updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan with the help of a consultant and adopt and enforce a town-wide property maintenance code. 

At the July 23 presentation, Thrower said that the town already enforces grounds keeping, but the update would focus on actual building structure compliance. The maintenance code would be created with the Department of Housing and Community Development and the county’s building inspections department. 

Historic Preservation 

Completion of the historic manor house restoration at Windsor Castle Park is an aim of town over the next several months. Along with restoration, the manor house was expanded and is being converted into an event center.

Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Amy Novak said that that staff anticipates being done with the house by the end of the year, and is currently working with Martha Russ, JoAnn Hall and Trey Gwaltney to set up the interior design plan for the house, which will be historical in nature, circa 1850 and some decades prior, according to Gwaltney. 

This section of priorities also lists adopting an ordinance to create a tax incentive program for preservation of historic homes in town to attract young homebuyers, with the adoption target date of March 2020.  

The last priority in this section focuses on creating multicultural tours that incorporate African American, Native American and women’s history, plus increased programs at the Schoolhouse Museum at 516 Main St. 

Cultural amenities 

Town staff’s strategic plan states that the Park-to-Park bike and pedestrian trail design will kick off next month once a route is selected. Staff recommends a sidewalk route along the east side of South Church Street from the Cypress Creek Bridge to Battery Park Road, and a town hall public input session on various routes showed that Smithfield residents agreed. 

The 31 priorities address further development of the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex based on feasibility assessments, including construction of an indoor facility, an additional concession stand and bathrooms closer to the football field and adding a fifth baseball field.  

Novak said that she would like for there to be a master plan for the complex that would include a needs assessment in the area ”so we know we’re building stuff that people actually use and use frequently.”

Rates for the baseball fields at the complex were lowered last month in order to generate more interest in the facility, according to Novak. 

The issue of a lack of parking downtown came under this section, with actual development of potential sites set for March 2022. 

Public services and infrastructure 

In the vein of how the Isle of Wight County School Board and Board of Supervisors operate, town officials want to develop a five-year Capital Improvements Plan to prioritize projects. Those include Grace Street water and sewer line replacement, relocation of the water line between Williamsburg and Bailey avenues and water and sewer line improvements along the 300 block of Main Street, according to town documents. 

Other priorities in this category include updating town utility account systems and various employment policies. 

Stewardship and governance 

These priorities delve into researching Town Council best practices and updating the governance structure where applicable “to ensure accountability and streamline processes.” 

This section also includes review of the Town Council/town manager division of authority, spearheaded by Thrower. 

Other focuses include cooperating with the county in terms of systems and updating town financial, personnel and salary policies, as well as its banking practices.   {/mprestriction}