Smithfield planners OK mixed-use zoning

Published 4:51 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2022

After debating the idea for six months, Smithfield’s Planning Commission voted unanimously June 14 in favor of a proposed zoning ordinance change that would allow mixed-use developments in town.

The proposed change, which the commissioners have revised multiple times since December, would replace the currently unused “planned corporate office and research district” zoning designation with planned mixed-use development, or PMUD. The new PMUD zoning would allow single-family and multifamily homes, bed-and-breakfast lodging, retail stores and other uses to coexist on a single parcel.

With the commissioners’ recommendation now on record, the matter will head to Smithfield’s Town Council for a public hearing and final vote.

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A consultant assisting Smithfield with redoing its comprehensive plan had proposed mixed-use zoning last year as a means of gradually transforming the South Church Street corridor into a denser, more walkable area. The idea became controversial in January when a group of residents argued the new zoning option would allow former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III to move forward with his proposed “Grange at 10Main” development at the western border of the town’s historic district.

Luter acquired the 56.8 acres in 2020 and razed the former Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era Pierceville homestead at the corner of Route 10 and Main Street. His preliminary plans for the site call for a hotel, three- and four-story apartment buildings, single-family and duplex homes, commercial space, more than 1,000 parking spaces and a permanent farmers market with buy-in from Smithfield and Isle of Wight County.

As of December, the draft PMUD option would have allowed multifamily dwellings, drive-thru facilities, maximum 60-foot building heights and a series of waivers to other provisions of the town’s zoning ordinance as “by right” uses, meaning a developer who obtained PMUD zoning would need no additional approvals from the Planning Commission or Town Council to construct four- and five-story buildings.

By April, the commissioners had doubled the minimum PMUD lot size from 5 acres to 10 and had added language changing the multifamily housing, drive-thru facilities, four- and five-story buildings and waivers from by-right uses to those requiring a special use permit.

By May, they’d added fixed density regulations, capping a mixed-use development’s residential component at 12 units per acre for multifamily housing, eight units per acre for duplexes and townhouses and five units per acre for single-family detached homes.

The June version the commissioners ultimately voted to recommend now specifies minimum distances between structures, per the commissioners’ May request to add language mandating a mixed-use development’s residential component align to the yard setbacks specified in the town’s existing suburban residential zoning regulations, and that its commercial components align with the setbacks for highway retail commercial zoning.