Town staff had DMV drawings months before planners, records show
Published 3:19 pm Monday, March 20, 2023
Illustrations of the proposed Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office and adjacent restaurant slated for South Church Street were in Smithfield’s possession for nearly six months prior to their being shown to – and rejected by – its Planning Commission, town records show.
When planners saw the drawings on March 14, they voted 6-2 to reject the designs as too modern for Smithfield’s entrance corridor overlay district, which mandates developers use brick or other historic-looking materials “appropriate to town character.”
Developer Warren Sachs, whose KLS Battery Park Development Group LLC owns the land and would lease one of the two proposed buildings to the DMV, contends the latest town-requested design change would increase costs and likely kill the project. The new Smithfield DMV has been on the drawing board since the old site shuttered permanently in 2021, but has yet to break ground.
Sachs contended at the March 14 meeting that he’d revised his plans six times over the past two years at the request of town staff, none of whom said anything about the design not meeting Smithfield’s aesthetic standards. Tammie Clary, Smithfield’s director of planning and community development, told The Smithfield Times she received the illustration of the 7,200-square-foot restaurant and retail building on Sept. 20 last year and the illustration of the 4,800-square-foot DMV building a week later on Sept. 28.
While the DMV illustration is undated, the illustration of the restaurant and retail building is dated March 24, 2022.
A week before the Sept. 20 email, the Planning Commission had voted to advance Sachs’ requested permit for the DMV to have up to 108 parking spaces. By the time the requested permit reached Smithfield’s Town Council for a final vote, both illustrations were available, but only the overhead site plan showing the parking lot layout was included for the council’s review.
According to Clary, the reason the illustrations weren’t included at the time of the council’s vote on the parking lot was that Sachs’ request for an entrance corridor overlay review wasn’t complete until Feb. 16.
Commissioner Randy Pack, who had made the March 14 motion to deny Sachs’ requested entrance corridor overlay approval, explained in an email to the Times that when an applicant requests a waiver for parking spaces, or makes a similar request, only the documents relevant to that request are presented. Since the entrance corridor overlay application was not complete at the time the parking lot issue went to the Planning Commission and Town Council, “it would be irresponsible,” Pack said, for the Planning Commission to weigh in on it “unless the applicant ask us for our thoughts – which they did not.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Planning Commission would often have pre-application meetings with only one or two commissioners, members of town staff, state agencies and the developer “to discuss informally the project and what the town expected to see,” Pack said. The pandemic paused this practice.
“I am hopeful we can start it again as it gives the developer a chance to make changes they may not have thought of previously. … While I cannot say that the design of the DMV would have been caught in this process, it would at least of had an opportunity to have been reviewed,” Pack said.
Sachs contended at the March 14 meeting that the DMV was becoming increasingly frustrated with the project’s delay in breaking ground, and would pull out of the agreement if the town insisted on any additional changes.
“This is the first time we’ve seen anything … yet you want us to vote on this tonight and shove it down our throats,” Commissioner Mike Swecker said to Sachs.
Swecker would ultimately cast one of the two dissenting votes on Pack’s motion.
“I stand by our decision,” Pack said of last week’s vote. “While we all want to see a DMV in Smithfield, we should not compromise our standards … There’s no reason to lessen our community appearance for the next 40-plus years when a one-month delay can get us the product we would be proud of having here.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include remarks by Commissioner Randy Pack.