‘Grange at 10Main’ opponents organize

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2022

More than 20 Smithfield residents gathered at the 1750 Courthouse on Main Street Feb. 12 to air their concerns about plans to develop land at the edge of the town’s historic district.

The group’s purpose – in the words of its de facto organizer, Elizabeth Hopkins – is to coordinate and speak “with one voice” when opposing the project proposed by former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III.

Luter has not submitted an official application to the town for rezoning or permits but has shared preliminary plans with members of Smithfield’s Town Council and Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors. The development, which would be named “The Grange at 10Main” for its location at Main Street and Route 10, is proposed to include a 13,300-square-foot permanent farmers market, 225 apartments, a hotel, 45 single-family and duplex homes, 33,350 square feet of commercial space and over 1,000 parking spaces.

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Luter acquired the 50-plus acres in 2020 and razed the former Little’s Supermarket and the 1730s-era Pierceville farmhouse.

Luter has offered to contribute land and $1 million toward the construction of the proposed farmers market building if the town and county jointly raise an additional $2.7 million.

Hopkins, a resident of Grace Street, worries that taking the farmers market away from its present, seasonal location in the Bank of Southside Virginia’s parking lot will hurt downtown businesses that currently benefit from the foot traffic the market brings.

“I believe moving the farmers market, the businesses around here will die,” she said.

One week prior to the meeting, members of the group distributed flyers at the doorsteps of downtown homes announcing the meeting’s date, time and location – and providing a list of “talking points.”

For Nick Blevins, another Grace Street resident, the choice of the 1750 Courthouse as the group’s meeting place is symbolic.

In the 1930s, he explained, the U.S. Postal Service planned to purchase the old courthouse and demolish it to build a new post office. According to Segar Cofer Dashiell’s book “Smithfield: A Pictorial History,” a group of residents led by Emily Delk Simpson intervened and organized a local chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities – now known as Preservation Virginia – to save and restore the old courthouse and its detached brick clerk’s office. The post office now stands at the corner of Main and Institute streets, while the old courthouse is now owned by Historic Smithfield Preservation LLC.

The courthouse location is meant as “inspiration as we go forward with this,” Blevins said. “This isn’t about obstructing progress. This is about working with us if the developer wants to do something.”

But others weren’t quite so optimistic about the group’s chances to resolve their concerns amicably.

“We have to at least consider hiring an attorney to prepare motions for injunction,” said Bill Harris, another Grace Street resident, who, like Hopkins and Blevins, has spoken on the Pierceville project at recent Town Council and Planning Commission meetings.

The group is planning to again meet at the courthouse on March 5 at 4 p.m.