Little’s Supermarket, Pierceville to be sold

Published 6:37 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Joseph W. Luter III, the former chairman of Smithfield Foods, is negotiating to buy the former Little’s supermarket and historic Pierceville farm downtown.

He hopes to demolish both, but says he hasn’t decided yet what will replace them. The razing of Little’s “can be done right away,” once asbestos issues have been remediated, he said, but tearing down Pierceville, a Dutch Colonial home that dates to the 1730s, will require “some approval.”

“I’ve been interested in trying to improve the appearance of Smithfield for some time,” Luter said. “This is a continuation of that effort.”

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Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams confirmed there are contracts pending on both properties.

Pierceville, located at 502 Grace St., has been the source of controversy since 2009 when it was first found to be in violation of the town’s historic preservation ordinance due to its dilapidated condition. A developer’s plans to build a 151-unit neighborhood on the 58-acre farm fell through in 2014 in the face of substantial opposition from town residents. Those plans led to the creation of Preserve Smithfield, an organization that wanted to turn Pierceville into a working colonial farm.

In 2016, Pierceville’s owner, Mary Delk Crocker, sued the town over its 2009 notice of violation — a suit she won in April 2019 when Judge Carl E. Eason Jr. ruled Smithfield couldn’t use its historic preservation ordinance to compel Crocker to fix up her home.

In 2017, while still immersed in her legal battle with the town, she petitioned Smithfield’s Town Council to be allowed to demolish the house, which the Town Council subsequently denied. Crocker, at one point, had also attempted to give the house and half an acre to the town, but that offer was likewise rejected.

Preserve Smithfield had then asked in June 2019 that Smithfield’s Town Council place a lien on the Pierceville property until such time as it was either mothballed or stabilized, but Town Attorney Bill Riddick had told Council members at the time that this particular provision of the town’s historic building maintenance code was unenforceable.

Crocker’s attorney, Archer Jones, was unable to be reached for comments on the impending sale by press time, but his real estate paralegal, Angela Becker, confirmed Crocker or her power of attorney had signed off on the contract. Becker said she had recently forwarded the contract to Riddick’s office, since he, in addition to being the town’s attorney, is representing Luter in the transaction.