Luters nix underground parking

Published 5:08 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III and his son have proposed cutting an underground parking lot from their plans to build a permanent home for the Smithfield Farmers Market.

Luter offered in December to donate land and contribute $1 million toward the construction of the proposed 13,300-square-foot indoor/outdoor building — provided Smithfield and Isle of Wight County jointly raise another $6 million toward the project.

Replacing the 150 planned underground parking spaces with just over 100 above-ground ones would cut roughly $4 million from the project’s cost, according to the former chairman’s son, Joseph W. Luter IV — thereby reducing the request of each locality to $1.35 million under a 50-50 split, or $2.7 million in total.

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Luter IV presented the revised plans at a special Jan. 27 meeting of Smithfield’s Town Council, which County Administrator Randy Keaton and two members of Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors — Chairman Rudolph Jefferson and District 5 Supervisor Dick Grice — attended on behalf of the county.

The meeting took place two days after a board meeting where the supervisors had balked at the prospect of a $3 million 50-50 split and voted to table the Luters’ request.

The facility would be located at the western entrance to the town’s historic district on land formerly occupied by the now-razed Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era Pierceville farmhouse. The elder Luter purchased both properties in 2020, proposing to transform the 50-plus acres into a mixed-use development.

The development, which the elder Luter proposes to name “The Grange at 10Main” for its location at the intersection of Main Street and Route 10, would include restaurant space in the farmers market building, a hotel, 225 apartments, 45 single-family homes and duplexes, and 33,350 square feet of commercial space.

Per the December plans, the farmers market building would have fronted along Main Street. Now, with the underground parking eliminated, the building would be set back from the road to allow for an above-ground parking lot with access via Grace Street and via a new road that would connect to Main Street.

The farmers market, a currently seasonal effort by Smithfield’s and Isle of Wight’s shared tourism department, typically brings 45 to 50 vendors to the Bank of Southside Virginia parking lot, where it’s held weekly on Saturdays in the spring, summer and fall months. The proposed structure would not only accommodate these vendors but also allow the event to eventually become a year-round, full-time market, according to Tourism Director Judy Winslow.

“We would expand that gradually,” Winslow said.

Officials then inquired about the possibility of historic graves being located on the former Pierceville land.

“We have an idea where they could be,” Luter IV replied.

“This is likely my father’s final project to the town … The projects he’s done for this town, I think, speak for themselves,” he added.

During Luter III’s tenure as Smithfield Foods’ chairman, the Fortune 500 company spent millions of dollars on improvements to the town’s historic district — including the expansion of Smithfield’s YMCA, which bears his name, the construction of The Smithfield Center and Smithfield Little Theatre. In 2009, Luter personally contributed over $5 million toward the town’s purchase and development of Smithfield founder Arthur Smith’s 18th century Windsor Castle homestead into what is now known as Windsor Castle Park. He also contributed funding to the Luter Sports Complex on West Main Street, which opened in 2018.

The conversation then turned to potential conflicts of interest among town officials. Town Councilman Randy Pack, who also serves on Smithfield’s Planning Commission, had disclosed his business interest in the proposed restaurant and hotel at the commission’s Jan. 11 meeting.

Town Attorney William Riddick III, in 2020, had also represented the elder Luter in his efforts to acquire and raze the former Little’s Supermarket and Pierceville properties.

At the Jan. 27 meeting, Pack reiterated the pledge he’d made earlier that month to recuse himself from any Planning Commission or Town Council vote on the Luters’ development. Riddick then spoke against any implication that he was “acting inappropriately,” which he called “unfounded.”

“I have no relationship with (the Luters) at all — none,” Riddick said.