Editorial – An opportunity to get it right

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

We predict that the Grange at 10Main, the ambitious residential-commercial development proposed for the former Pierceville property on the edge of Smithfield’s historic district, will be built and will be good for the community.

The latter — it being a good thing for Smithfield — will be determined entirely by town officials, both elected and appointed, who bear the heavy burden of vetting the developer’s plan and working with him to accomplish his goals while doing right by citizens, who are understandably concerned about the project’s impact on their quality of life.

We believe that the Planning Commission and Town Council, led by new Mayor Steve Bowman, are up to the task. Their margin for error is small with a citizenry still chapped by the town’s handling of the Mallory Scott Farm residential development in 2021. During their campaigns last fall, Bowman and council newcomer Jeff Brooks were highly critical of how the Mallory Scott decision was handled. With returnees Mike Smith and Wayne Hall having voted against that project, the current Town Council has a majority of its members who are unlikely to let history repeat itself.

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We believe that the developer, Joe Luter IV, wants a successful project that inspires confidence by community leaders and citizens. His commitment in a letter elsewhere on this page to reduce the proposed height of a hotel in the development from four stories to three demonstrates good faith and a responsiveness to early concerns of citizens.

Two things will be key to town officials’ earning citizen trust in the weeks and months ahead:

  • Planning Commission and Town Council meetings must be livestreamed and thus made more accessible to citizens. We were thrilled to hear Brooks bring it up during this month’s council meeting. He should easily get three more votes to make it happen: Bowman, Hall and Vice Mayor Valerie Butler all expressed support for livestreamed meetings during an October candidate forum hosted by this newspaper.
  • Discussion of the project must be in open session. Closed-door talks by the Town Council and Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors preceding commitments of taxpayer funding for a new Farmers Market as part of the development dealt an unnecessary blow to citizen perception of the Grange. Further secrecy will surely fuel community opposition to the Grange at a tenuous time.