Smithfield Planners endorse Grange rezoning, frown on four-story apartments

Published 11:12 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2023

A rezoning application for the Grange at 10Main, a 304-home mixed-use development planned at Route 10 and Main Street, is headed to Smithfield’s Town Council with a favorable recommendation from the town’s Planning Commission.

Smithfield’s planners voted unanimously on June 13 to support what would be the town’s first use of a new planned mixed-use development, or “PMUD,” but voted 4-3 to recommend denial of developer Joseph Luter IV’s requested special use permit to waive the town’s 35-foot maximum building height.

The development is proposed to include three- and four-story apartment buildings, a hotel, indoor/outdoor farmers market, single-family and duplex homes and commercial space. The hotel, as proposed, would be 42 feet tall. The three-story apartment buildings would be 39 feet and the four-story ones would be 46.5 feet.

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Commissioner Dr. Thomas Pope, who made the motion to recommend denial of the height waiver, had advocated at previous meetings against setting the “precedent” of allowing four-story buildings in Smithfield’s historic district. Commissioner James Yoko seconded Pope’s motion, which secured additional votes from Commissioners Mike Swecker and Julia Hillegass.

The commissioners also voted 6-1 for a special use permit to waive the town’s 12-unit-per-acre maximum density allowed for multifamily housing. The 212 apartment units would bring a density of 27.5 units per acre, though the average density for the entire development is 7.9 units per acre. Yoko cast the dissenting vote.

A future land use map amendment and four other requested special use permits each received unanimous recommendations for approval. The other permits would allow multifamily housing, waive parking and loading requirements, waive yard setback requirements and permit five short-term rental cottages.

The Town Council will have the final say on whether the commissioners’ recommendations are upheld.

An hour-long public comment period preceded the votes and drew 11 speakers, mostly downtown residents and all but one in opposition to the Grange. The only speaker who said he wasn’t opposed to the development was the Rev. James Harrison of Main Street Baptist Church, which is located directly across Main Street from the development site. Harrison did, however, advocate for an underground stormwater system instead of a proposed pond that would front Main Street.

Hillegass, in supporting the rezoning over the opposition, contended leaving the existing commercial zoning at the former Little’s Supermarket site in place could attract a “less desirable” use than what Luter IV is proposing, should he scrap his plans and sell the land.

Luter IV’s father, former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III, purchased and razed the former Little’s and 1730s-era Pierceville farmhouse in 2020, leaving nearly 57 developable acres.

Commissioner Randy Pack, who also serves on Town Council, recused himself from the discussion and vote owing to his family’s interest in running a restaurant at the Grange site.