Editorial – Disclose proposed Grange subsidies

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

As the Grange at 10Main barrels toward May public hearings on a long list of requested zoning changes and conditional use permits, it’s time for the developer and town officials to put all of their cards on the table.

Smithfield Planning Commissioner Dr. Thomas Pope pointed out the elephant in the room when developer Joseph Luter IV met with the commission this month about his big plans for the former Pierceville property on the western outskirts of the historic district: 304 single-family and multifamily residences, a new structure for the town’s farmer’s market, a hotel and retail space. Pope wanted to know precisely what taxpayer investment is sought for the project, but he got no clear answers.

There’s lots to like about Luter’s proposed development from our vantage point, but like Pope, we have some serious heartburn about taxpayer subsidization of residential and commercial development. The town and county have never done it before and would set a risky precedent by doing it for the Grange. Besides, as noted on this week’s front page, Isle of Wight is one of Virginia’s 10 fastest-growing localities. Frankly, this community doesn’t have to subsidize residential growth. It’s already happening, and, in the opinion of many citizens, too quickly. 

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Both the town and county have already pledged up to $1.4 million for the farmers market, matching Luter’s commitment of $1 million and the land it would be built on. While the price tag seems high, we have no beef with spending taxpayer money on a public venue.

Still a mystery, though, are the developer’s expectation of taxpayer reimbursement for infrastructure costs throughout the development and of an “economic development incentive” for the hotel. If these subsidies are essential to the project, they must be quantified and debated now.

Planning commissioners and Town Council members cannot make an informed decision on zoning changes until the proposed taxpayer subsidies are fully vetted. 

Once the train is rolling down the track after zoning approvals, the excuse for approving taxpayer subsidies will be that they are needed to prevent a trainwreck. That’s not the taxpayers’ problem. They deserve the information now.