Comprehensive plan consultant: prioritize biking, walking
Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Construct continuous sidewalks throughout the entire town of Smithfield and provide, at minimum, a painted bicycle lane along all town-maintained roads.
These are among the suggestions Summit Design and Engineering included in its July 13 vision, goals, objectives and strategies report for Smithfield as a means of reducing traffic congestion in town. The report is intended to guide the town’s Planning Commission through the process of revising its comprehensive plan, which was last updated in 2009.
Summit, which the town has retained as its consultant for the process, began surveying residents in May in an effort to provide the commissioners with data. According to the report, a number of residents surveyed brought up traffic congestion as a concern.
“In order to reduce traffic, local trips taken by car need to be reduced,” the report states. “Fortunately, much of the Town is in walking and bicycling distance, which brings great benefits to the health of the community and the local economy.”
Locating new public parking facilities on the edge of downtown or the South Church Street area and “prioritizing” bicycles and pedestrians can make it “easier to drive an automobile in town as well.”
The report further recommends Smithfield “avoid projects that widen existing roads,” redevelop the “highway oriented” South Church Street corridor to something more akin to Smithfield’s historic district and consider the feasibility of bus service or a water taxi.
“We heard clearly from public input that the Town values the small-town feel, the walkable nature of the historic district, and that people want more options for food and retail and less traffic congestion,” said Smithfield’s community development and planning director, Tammie Clary. “In order to ensure that there is more of what people love about Smithfield in the future, the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance should enable that type of development, which will provide that environment.”
Of the 454 responses to the survey, 91 expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of recycling services in town, Clary said. The town eliminated its recycling contract with Bay Disposal from its 2020-2021 budget, resulting in the cessation of curbside pickup earlier this year.
There’s also a recommendation to expand access to the Pagan River “for swimming, wading or other activities.”
“More connection with the water could inspire more of the community to be concerned with water quality, as well as provide a great place to cool off and create memories tied to the Town’s river,” the report states.
As for land use, “we heard both an interest in big box retail and concerns about big box retail,” Clary said. As such, Summit’s report suggests any big box stores, if approved, use their “urban style” storefronts.
“A number of localities require that chain stores fit into their desired development pattern rather than using the large parking lot, suburban model,” Clary said.
The report further recommends the town eliminate or change its floor access ratio requirements to allow for more “creative design of buildings.”
Floor access ratio, or FAR, Clary explained, is the ratio of the square footage of a proposed building to the square footage of the entire parcel. For example, a FAR of 1 would mean a single-story building covering the entire parcel or a four-story building covering one quarter.
“It is a tool that was used for guiding low-density suburban development that still exists in many zoning ordinances,” Clary said.
The full Summit report can be downloaded from the town’s comprehensive plan website at tinyurl.com/3ym4w3ua.
“These recommendations are a draft conglomeration of citizens’ comments and feedback, that will be reviewed and vetted by the Planning Commission, and are subject to change,” Clary said.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold its first work session on the comprehensive plan update at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 25 in the Town Council chamber of the Smithfield Center.