Bad optics for developer

Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

LSMP LLC, the Luter-owned company looking to develop the former Pierceville property on the edge of Smithfield’s historic district, was certainly not alone in wanting Glenn Youngkin to win Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial race. The state’s business community was as motivated as we’ve seen in years to put a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion.

But the degree of LSMP’s investment — a cool $1 million contribution to Youngkin in October — will surely cause even deeper scrutiny of any taxpayer involvement in “The Grange at 10 Main,” a proposed mixed-use development on the site of the razed Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era farmhouse known as Pierceville.

Why, the logic goes, would a developer with the wherewithal to drop $1 million in a political race need help from taxpayers on a project that stands to make a handsome profit in the years ahead?

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News of the massive Youngkin donation, reported by The Times’ Stephen Faleski in last week’s edition, comes at a time when Isle of Wight County supervisors, who are being asked to pony up more than $1 million for a new farmers market as a signature feature of the Grange project, have been openly skeptical of the expenditure. District 1 Supervisor Don Rosie said at a meeting this month that he believed the project was being forced on the county. We’ll see if a significantly reduced price tag — the county originally was asked for $3 million — gets a more favorable reaction when the Board of Supervisors next convenes. The Smithfield Town Council seems much more excited about its contribution.

We remain generally supportive of the “The Grange” project, even as we acknowledge that the Luters did themselves no favors in the court of public opinion by using their Pierceville-related LLC to finance a statewide political campaign. After all, a million bucks would nearly cover the county’s or town’s requested contribution for a new farmers market.

The campaign donation was eye-popping by any standard. Consider that, in a race in which Youngkin raked in $50 million from all across the state and country, LSMP’s donation was the largest single donation other than from Republican Party groups and from the candidate himself. For further perspective, Smithfield Foods, the company built by the Luter family and now the world’s largest pork producer, gave less than $50,000 to the two major gubernatorial candidates combined.