Luter farmers market proposal put to task force

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on March 17 to create a task force for the purpose of evaluating the costs versus benefits of funding former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III’s proposed permanent farmers market.

Luter has offered to donate land and contribute $1 million toward the construction of the proposed 13,300-square-foot indoor/outdoor building — if Smithfield and Isle of Wight County jointly raise another $2.7 million. The new building would be part of the “Grange at 10Main” mixed-use development he’s proposed for 50-plus acres at Main Street and Route 10 on the western edge of Smithfield’s historic district.

Supervisor Dick Grice said the board had discussed Luter’s proposal and a “study on the commercial space” proposed for Luter’s development in a closed session prior to the start of the meeting. The proposal calls for “the purchase” of the farmers market building “by the county and the town in a joint partnership.”

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The Smithfield Times has requested a copy of the study but had not been provided the document by press deadline.

“This particular proposal, I think, merits putting together a task force to identify the practicality of this particular approach,” Grice said.

Grice proposed that the task force include representatives from the Board of Supervisors, the Smithfield Town Council and members of Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority and/or staff. The board plans to appoint task force members at its April 7 work session.

Supervisor William McCarty emphasized that the county “has no bearing” on whether Luter’s development is approved or denied, and that the task force was to consider only whether to partner with Luter on the farmers market component.

Luter has yet to apply for rezoning or permits for his development. When he does so, the decision will fall to Smithfield’s Town Council, as the site is located entirely within Smithfield’s town limits.

According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, the task force’s purpose would be to “vet the numbers” in the study the county has received “to see if the farmers market will pay for itself.”

“It has nothing to do with whether the development should be approved one way or the other,” Jones said.

Grice suggested a timeframe of 60 days for the task force to meet and make its recommendation.

Board Chairman Rudolph Jefferson was the sole dissenting vote on the matter.

“I think we’re throwing the citizens a curveball, so to speak,” Jefferson said, “because, if we approve it and make an investment based on the revenue that will be generated with that development, we’re telling the public … that we agree with the development.”

“I disagree,” Grice replied.

Should the town not approve Luter’s project, the proposed funding agreement “and the task force’s review of it would be null and void,” Grice said.