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Help shape town’s future

Citizens repeatedly filled the Smithfield Center this spring and summer to protest a developer’s plans to put 800-plus homes on land at Battery Park and Nike Park roads, a project ultimately approved by the Town Council despite residents’ opposition.

Sadly, the first of two Planning Commission meetings to refine the town’s Comprehensive Plan for the next decade or more drew no such crowd last month. The second is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Smithfield Center, and deserves as much citizen interest as the Mallory Scott Farm development.

The best time to have a say on whether and how Smithfield grows in the future is during the writing of the Comprehensive Plan, a document that spells out the community’s vision and maps out what parts of town will be developed and which will be preserved. A draft vision, goals, objectives and strategies report that will influence the final document is available for public inspection at https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.33/zjj.076.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/final-draft-vgos-document-v2.pdf 

It’s human nature to get worked up over a specific project, and the citizens who let their voices be heard regarding Mallory Scott Farm were certainly within their rights to do so. They ultimately failed, though, in large part because the land had already been designated on planning maps by Isle of Wight County and, after annexation, the Town of Smithfield for residential development. Those hoping to stop the project altogether got a hard civics lesson.

The new Comprehensive Plan, which a consultant is helping the town write, is a much more important opportunity for citizen input. Much feedback has been given, but more is needed before the document is declared final.

“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 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.”

To say that a community is at a crossroads is an overused metaphor, but it’s safe to say that town leaders’ planning decisions, including the content of the new Comprehensive Plan, will be consequential long beyond their time in office. Officeholders come and go, but citizens remain to enjoy the successes or cope with the errors of elected and appointed leadership.

If you’ve had only a casual interest in local government over the years but care deeply about the future of Smithfield, this is the time to get more engaged.