Attorney: New planners unlikely to lose seats over zoning law

Published 4:12 pm Monday, January 30, 2023

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Trey Gwaltney and Judith Lally were each reappointed to the Board of Historic and Architectural Review on Jan. 3.

Two new members of Smithfield’s Planning Commission aren’t likely to lose their seats over the Town Council’s overlooking a requirement of its own zoning ordinance when appointing them, according to the town’s attorney.

The seven-member Planning Commission is tasked with making recommendations to the Town Council on rezoning requests, permits and other land-use decisions. Per a requirement of the town’s zoning ordinance, one member of the Planning Commission must also serve on Smithfield’s Board of Historic and Architectural Review, a separate seven-member body that reviews proposed exterior changes in the town’s historic district.

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The Town Council reappointed Dr. Thomas Pope to the Planning Commission on Jan. 3 and had named James Yoko and Bill Davidson to the commission as replacements for Julia Hillegass and Michael Torrey, whose terms expire Jan. 31. Hillegass had been the commission’s liaison to the BHAR.

“We discussed possible ways to fix that, which will be addressed next week,” Town Attorney Bill Riddick said.

The Town Council is set to meet Feb. 7. The Planning Commission is set to meet on Feb. 14 for the first time with its new members seated.

According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, Mayor Steve Bowman has tasked council members Mike Smith and Jeff Brooks with filling the liaison role.

At the same Jan. 3 meeting, the council had reappointed BHAR Chairman Trey Gwaltney and member Judith Lally, leaving no opening for any of the new Planning Commission members to fill the liaison role.

The corrective action to bring Smithfield back into compliance with its own ordinance “is not likely to result in any of those persons who were appointed being ‘unappointed,’” Riddick said.

Ordinarily, the Planning Commission would elect a new chair and vice chair at its first meeting in January, but due to the issue with its lack of a Board of Historic and Architectural Review liaison, the board named 2022 Chairman Charles Bryan as acting chairman until February.