Luter has heart for Smithfield

Published 7:47 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2021

If Joseph Luter III has earned anything from this community over the past half-century, it’s the benefit of the doubt — and even some optimism — about the future of the former Pierceville property he plans to redevelop.

Nothing in Luter’s body of work suggests anything but passion for Smithfield and its economic and cultural well-being.

Therefore, count us as open-minded and hopeful about the land that previously held Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era Dutch Colonial farmhouse known as Pierceville. Luter, the longtime former Smithfield Foods chairman, intends a mixed-use redevelopment of the property as part of a grander plan to “improve the gateway” to the west end of town, according to a letter his son, Joseph Luter IV, wrote to Smithfield’s Town Council.

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The younger Luter said his father envisions “a high-quality development” including office space, multi-family housing “for all income levels,” a “small boutique hotel,” townhouses, single-family homes, assisted-living accommodations and, potentially, a walking trail built in conjunction with the Smithfield YMCA.

The YMCA facility — in a class of its own for a community the size of Smithfield — is but one example of Luter’s generosity to this community over the years. Windsor Castle Park is another. One can argue that Smithfield Foods, even under new ownership, remains a terrific “corporate citizen” today because of Luter’s legacy of community service.

An encouraging recent development — the sale of the historic canopy gas station adjacent to the Pierceville property to Smithfield businessman and downtown advocate Mark Hall — is an example of Luter’s sensitivity to preserving the town’s historic charm, even as it explores a more prosperous future. The building likely would have been torn down but for collaboration between Hall and Luter to save it.

Hall’s purchase of the property also extends, at least briefly, the Gimme Shelter’s service to the Isle of Wight County Humane Society and our community’s unwanted animals. The thrift store, which faced a quick eviction, will continue to operate a while longer as a labor of love by Robin and Peter Knauth, who opened the store in 2010.

Hall told The Smithfield Times that he hopes to work with town officials and Luter to ensure his and Luter’s projects both include landscaping consistent with what’s been done on the east end of Main Street — possibly including the extension of the town’s brick sidewalks and streetlamps.

We’re excited about what’s in store.