Low attendance cuts Smithfield planners’ meeting short

Published 5:33 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Smithfield’s Planning Commission cut its July 12 meeting short due to lacking enough members to vote on the scheduled agenda items.

The commission’s rules define a quorum as a minimum of five members. But the ordinarily seven-member advisory body only had four that evening, with Commissioners Randy Pack, Michael Swecker and Dr. Thomas Pope absent.

The commission concluded the evening by “recessing” the meeting to July 19 at 7 p.m. in hopes that by next week at least one of the missing members would return.

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The commissioners had scheduled a public hearing on former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III’s submitted site plans for his “Luter Acres” development at Washington and James streets. Though they still held the hearing on schedule, the lack of a quorum prevented them from taking any action on the matter.

Smithfield’s Town Council approved Luter’s requested special use permit for the project in November. The former chairman proposes to construct four duplexes and four single-family homes on the formerly town-owned land, which Smithfield sold to Luter earlier in 2021. The project will also entail creating a 13-space parking lot for use by the adjacent Veterans of Foreign Wars post and connecting Clay Street to James Street via an extension that will be named Clay Avenue.

The town had acquired the roughly 2.6 acres from Isle of Wight County, intending to subdivide it into 11 lots for the purpose of relocating residents of the Pinewood Heights neighborhood behind Smithfield Foods’ meatpacking plant. Those plans fell through when a number of Pinewood Heights residents, whose homes are to be razed so the town can turn the land into an industrial park, wanted to choose their own relocation sites. Luter’s plans call for homes with a price range of $450,000 to $550,000.

In addition to a site plan approval, Luter is now requesting an additional special use permit to allow for “zero lot residential units.” According to Community Development and Planning Director Tammie Clary, the term refers to residential dwellings in the downtown neighborhood residential district that do not meet the yard requirements specified in the town’s zoning ordinance.

Bob Hines of Washington Street, the only speaker at the hearing, inquired about whether any trees would need to be cut down, specifically two cypress trees along James Street. According to town officials, some trees will come down to make way for the Clay Street extension, but the conditions of the Town Council’s November approval include a provision that the two cypress trees are to be preserved.