Planners to re-vote on mixed-use zoning

Published 3:58 pm Thursday, February 3, 2022

Smithfield’s Planning Commission will re-vote Feb. 8 on whether to allow mixed-use zoning in town.

The proposed changes to the town’s zoning ordinance would replace the currently unused “planned corporate office and research district” zoning designation with planned mixed-use development, or PMUD.

The Planning Commission will recommend approval or denial on the proposed changes to Smithfield’s Town Council, which will then have the final say on the matter.

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The commissioners had voted to table the proposed changes indefinitely in January after residents who spoke in opposition at a public hearing on the matter argued the revised ordinance would make it easier for former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III and his son, Joseph W. Luter IV, to secure approval for the controversial “Grange at 10Main” development he hopes to build at the western border of the town’s historic district.

The new PMUD zoning would allow single-family and multi-family homes, bed-and-breakfast lodging, retail stores and other uses to co-exist on a single parcel measuring at least 5 acres, and set a maximum height of 60 feet to permit four- and five-story buildings.

The Luters’ proposed development, named for its location at the intersection of Main Street and Route 10, calls for a 13,300-square-foot permanent farmers market building, a hotel, 225 apartments, 45 single-family homes and duplexes, 33,350 square feet of commercial space and more than 1,000 parking spaces.

The elder Luter acquired the land by purchasing and razing the former Little’s Supermarket on Main Street and a 1730s-era farmhouse known as Pierceville.

The Luters have yet to submit an official application for rezoning or permits from the town, but have shared conceptual plans with members of Smithfield’s Town Council and Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors.

Tammie Clary, the town’s director of community planning and development, stated in January that the idea of allowing mixed-use zoning had originated last year as a result of the Planning Commission’s ongoing process of redoing the town’s comprehensive plan. A consultant had recommended the plan call for gradually transforming the South Church Street corridor, on the opposite end of town from the Luters’ proposed development, into a more dense, walkable area.

“I really did believe that’s what (the PMUD zoning) was for,” said Town Councilman Randy Pack at the council’s Feb. 1 meeting. “While that is true … it is also the zoning piece that would be needed for the Luters to make an application.”

Pack, as the Town Council’s liaison to the Planning Commission, serves on both bodies.

Pack had been the one to suggest tabling the PMUD zoning in January to avoid any further perception that the zoning had been created specifically to move the Luters’ project forward. But at the Feb. 1 Town Council meeting, he said he’s since been advised by town staff that the Planning Commission will need to make its decision on the zoning ordinance on Feb. 8.

“I had some discussion with Tammie and Bill (Riddick) about why this needs to happen,” Pack said, speaking to The Smithfield Times by phone on Feb. 3.

Riddick, the town’s attorney, had represented Luter in his efforts to acquire and raze Little’s and Pierceville in 2020, though at a Jan. 27 Town Council meeting he’d denied having any continued relationship with Luter or his son. Riddick was absent from the Planning Commission’s Jan. 11 meeting, at which the proposed PMUD zoning was tabled.

Pack recused himself in January from voting on any future approvals Luter requests from the town in either his Planning Commission or Town Council capacity, but said at the Feb. 1 Town Council meeting that he does plan on voting when the Planning Commission reconsiders PMUD zoning next week.

“This is a zoning ordinance for our town,” Pack said.

He recused himself in January from any vote specific to the Luters’ development, citing a business interest in the proposed Grange at 10Main. Pack is a principal of Pack Brothers Hospitality, which owns and operates two local hotel, restaurant and marina businesses: Smithfield Station and the Surry Seafood Co. Pack told The Smithfield Times last month that he’s been in preliminary discussions with the Luters regarding the possibility of his becoming involved in running the restaurant that would be housed in the farmers market building, or in running the hotel.

But since the option of requesting PMUD zoning, if the ordinance changes are approved, would be made available to everyone who owns a 5-plus-acre parcel in town, and not just the Luters. “My heart is where it’s supposed to be,” Pack said.

According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, developers interested in rezoning their parcels to PMUD would still have to apply to the town for rezoning.

“It’s just creating another tool in the toolbox,” Stallings said. “It’s not preemptively rezoning any property.”