Mixed-use zoning draws opposition

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Opponents of a proposed change to Smithfield’s zoning ordinance made their presence known at a Jan. 11 meeting of the town’s Planning Commission.

The meeting included a public hearing on whether to allow mixed-use zoning in Smithfield by replacing the currently unused “planned corporate office and research district” zoning designation with planned mixed-use development, or PMUD. The new zoning option would allow single-family and multi-family housing, bed-and-breakfast lodging, retail stores and other uses to coexist on a single parcel, and set a maximum height of 60 feet to permit four- and five-story buildings.

According to Tammie Clary, the town’s director of community development and planning, the idea of allowing mixed-use zoning originated last year when the Planning Commission worked with a consultant on the still-ongoing process of redoing the town’s comprehensive plan. The consultant had recommended creating a more dense, walkable area along the South Church Street corridor.

But there’s only one mixed-use development currently proposed for Smithfield, and it wouldn’t be located on South Church Street — a fact that was not lost on the 11 residents who spoke in opposition to the revised ordinance.

Former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III purchased and razed a 1730s-era Pierceville homestead and the former Little’s Supermarket in 2020, proposing to turn the 50-plus acres at the western border of the town’s historic district into a mixed-use development named “The Grange at 10Main.” Per plans presented to Smithfield’s Town Council and Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors in December, the proposed development — located at the corner of Main Street and Route 10 — would include a 13,300-square-foot indoor/outdoor farmers market with 150 underground parking spaces, an additional 902 parking spaces above ground, 225 apartments, a hotel, 45 single-family homes and duplexes and 33,350 square feet of commercial space.

Goose Hill Way resident Mark Gay, who heads Preserve Smithfield — a nonprofit formed from community opposition in 2015 to a previous developer’s plans for Pierceville — described the proposed zoning ordinance changes as “lowering the bar” for the approval process Luter would need to go through before proceeding with his construction plans.

“When you’re talking mixed use and you’re talking housing and you’re talking high-rises, you’re talking Suffolk,” added Dennis Arinello, another Goose Hill Way resident. “It’s just going to ruin the charm and the demeanor of what this town is about.”

Theresa Mulherin of Washington Street said she supported “absolutely banning” it from Smithfield’s historic district.

Commissioner Randy Pack clarified that the Planning Commission was “not discussing the development at Pierceville,” but added that he understood “how the PMUD zoning could look as such.”

He then agreed that Luter’s proposed development should “stand on its own” and recommended the proposed ordinance be tabled until after Luter’s proposal was approved or denied, to avoid any further perception that the zoning was created specifically for that project.

“It is not designed to address the Luter project at all, so I don’t see the urgency,” Commissioner Julia Hillegass agreed.

The Planning Commission ultimately voted unanimously, with members Michael Torrey and Raynard Gibbs absent, in favor of Pack’s motion to table the matter indefinitely, until such time as the Pierceville development debate is resolved.

That said, “doing nothing” with the Pierceville and Little’s land is “not realistic,” Hillegass added. “That’s a major entrance corridor … you want it done well.”

An official application from Luter for rezoning or permits for his proposed development has yet to be made to the Planning Commission or Town Council.