Development opponents want traffic study

Published 5:02 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Residents of Smithfield’s historic district are calling for a traffic study ahead of any Town Council vote on former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III’s plans to redevelop the former Pierceville and Little’s Supermarket properties.

Luter purchased and razed the former Main Street grocery store and 1730s-era farmhouse in 2020, proposing to transform the 50-plus acres into a mixed-use development that would include a 13,300-square-foot permanent home for the Smithfield Farmers Market, 225 apartments, a hotel, 45 single-family and duplex homes, 33,350 square feet of commercial space, and more than 1,000 parking spaces.

Site plans Luter and his son, Joseph W. Luter IV, shared with Smithfield’s Town Council and Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors call for access roads connecting to Main, Grace and Cary streets.

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Though the town has yet to receive any official rezoning or permit requests pertaining to the project, a group of 11 residents spoke in opposition to the proposal at the council’s Feb. 1 meeting. Three speakers specifically asked the town to gather data on the development’s vehicular traffic impact.

“The first block of Cary Street is one way … every house is within probably 20 feet of the street,” said Cary Street resident Linda Spady. “Two cars cannot pass on that street and face each other … We are asking for a traffic study and a speed study.”

Many of Cary’s homes don’t have driveways, so residents have to parallel park along the road, Spady said.

According to Virginia Department of Transportation data from 2019, Cary Street saw an average of 2,100 vehicles per day over a one-year period. Grace Street saw an average of 3,300 per day that same year.

A 2021 speed study by the Smithfield Police Department further recorded 11,569 vehicles traveling one direction on Grace Street over a one-week period — at an average speed of 24 mph in a 25 mph zone. But the 2021 total doesn’t actually reflect an increase in traffic over 2019, according to Town Manager Michael Stallings.

If you multiply the 11,569 figure by two to account for eastbound and westbound traffic, he explained, and divide that total by seven days, the average daily traffic traveling both directions on Grace Street still amounts to just over 3,300 vehicles in 2021.

Nick Blevins of Grace Street called for a series of studies: one on traffic, one on the development’s environmental impact, one on its impact on the town’s water and sewer infrastructure, and an archeological study.

“These studies should be performed by independent third-party consultants with no affiliation with the developers or the project in any way,” Blevins said. “State and federal law require that certain things must be done prior to potentially disturbing cultural or burial sites, and it’s a felony to damage a burial site … the time to identify those sites is now, before construction begins.”

Luter IV had told members of Smithfield’s Town Council on Jan. 27 that he and his father “have an idea” as to where historic graves associated with the Pierceville property are located.

Blevins and another speaker, Elizabeth Hopkins of Grace Street, also called for a pedestrian traffic study to evaluate the proposed development’s potential impact on downtown businesses’ customer base were the farmers market to move from its current, seasonal setup in the Bank of Southside Virginia parking lot.

“Day-trippers come for the farmers market and they don’t have a designated parking spot at a building … they park throughout town, and they wander through the streets, and they come to the farmers market,” Hopkins said. “They see what else is there, and they then partake in those restaurants and those businesses … what is proposed will kill off downtown.”

Over the weekend, opponents of the proposed development distributed flyers throughout town inviting residents to attend a meeting on Feb. 12 at the 1750 courthouse on Main Street, hosted by members of a group known as “Smithfield Downtown Residents.” The flyer suggests several “talking points,” including that people continue to request the aforementioned studies, and ask that the town allow access to the proposed development only from Main Street or Route 10.