Editorial – A deep breath on the Grange

Published 12:06 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Sincere apologies are rare in today’s political climate, usually qualified with the gutless “if I offended anyone.” In other words, “I really didn’t do anything wrong, but because someone called me out for it, I will say I’m sorry.”

Smithfield Town Attorney William Riddick, to his credit, gave a heartfelt, unqualified apology during last week’s Planning Commission meeting for his outburst in a prior meeting. It was an important apology not just for Planning Commissioner Dr. Thomas Pope, who had incurred Riddick’s wrath, but for a community that is navigating one of the most important decisions of our lifetimes: whether to allow a huge mixed-use development on the edge of Smithfield’s historic district.

We commend Riddick, who set the right tone for a debate that is far from over.

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The Planning Commission’s endorsement of the Grange at 10Main with one significant exception — four-story apartments, which developer Joseph Luter IV has described as essential to the bigger project’s viability — puts the matter in the purview of the body that will decide its fate: the Town Council. Those with strong feelings on both sides of the question should use the opportunity to take a collective deep breath.

Opponents of the Grange deserve some credit. They conducted themselves honorably during three Planning Commission meetings on the Grange, a sharp contrast with the anger and unruliness that marked 2021 town meetings about development of Mallory Pointe subdivision at Nike and Battery Park roads. 

Perhaps Mallory Pointe opponents were right in their belief that the town’s decision was preordained, but insults are hardly ever persuasive. Grange opponents should keep that in mind heading into the Town Council’s consideration of the project. (Our advice: Calling Joe Luter III’s contributions to Smithfield “ordinary” will hurt your cause.) 

Unlike Mallory Pointe, the Grange is far from a done deal. In fact, if a vote were taken today, we’re confident from having worked our sources closely in recent weeks that Luter lacks the four votes he needs for rezoning, much less taxpayer participation in the project’s public infrastructure. He might eventually get those four votes, but he doesn’t have them yet.

And taxpayers can be confident that new Mayor Steve Bowman will preside over a transparent process. On the narrow question of rezoning and conditional use permits, we believe the Planning Commission got it right last week, given the lack of vital information about proposed, but not fully disclosed, town and county financing of the project.

The Town Council can — and will, we predict — insist on that information sooner rather than later. We keep an open mind until it’s provided.