Editorial – Community needs full Grange picture
Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Smithfield Planning Commissioner Dr. Thomas Pope deserves better than a tongue-lashing from the town attorney. In fact, he deserves this community’s utmost gratitude for his studious, probing approach to a job that should never be a rubber stamp.
A project as transformational as the Grange at 10Main, the Luter family’s ambitious mixed-use development proposed for the western edge of the town’s historic district, must be considered in totality, not piecemeal. How it will be financed might just be the most pressing question of all.
Like Pope, we’d prefer to see that prime real estate developed by a family with the Luters’ long devotion to Smithfield’s betterment. But it must get the thorough vetting that a project of this scope demands.
Give credit to Isle of Wight County for helping fill in some blanks created by the town and developer. County officials’ choice to be completely transparent when responding to this newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request for Grange information was a clear contrast with the town’s choice of secrecy on the critical matter of taxpayer involvement in infrastructure expense. Citizens must never let their public servants forget that secrecy is almost always a choice, rarely a requirement, under Virginia’s transparency laws.
Pope, in a recent Planning Commission meeting, asked reasonable, pertinent questions about the developer’s plan to have the town and county reimburse him for certain infrastructure expense at the Grange — an unprecedented request in a community that has been growing leaps and bounds for decades without taxpayer subsidization of residential development.
Town Attorney William Riddick blew a fuse in response, causing a casual observer to wonder whether he was representing Pope or defending the developer. Riddick, an honorable attorney with decades of service to this community, has gotten way too emotional and defensive about the Grange. Many more questions and concerns will be asked and aired in the weeks ahead, so a collective deep breath by Riddick and all others in town government is needed.
Sure, there are some, maybe many, in town who want to see the Grange rejected entirely. Most just want to be fully informed, and are understandably skeptical after nearly two years of a process that has been less than transparent, including closed-door, late-night negotiating on taxpayer funding of a new farmers market that would be a Grange focal point.
If taxpayer involvement in infrastructure expense is essential to the Grange’s development, it is as relevant to the Planning Commission’s consideration as the developer’s projections of millions in new tax revenue for the town. Pope should get the information he requested, not be chastised for asking questions.