Smithfield to revise circa-2005 entrance corridor design standards

Published 5:06 pm Friday, July 14, 2023

Smithfield’s Planning Commission will soon begin working with a consultant to update the town’s “entrance corridor” design standards.

Smithfield’s zoning ordinance designates 500-foot-wide zones along each side of North and South Church streets, West Main Street, Benns Church Boulevard and Battery Park Road as the town’s “entrance corridor overlay district.” The ordinance requires that new construction within this zone be “appropriate to town character.”

An accompanying entrance corridor design guidelines document prepared by Frazier Associates in 2005 for Smithfield hasn’t been substantially updated since.

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According to Planning Commission Chairman Charles Bryan, the goal is to bring the 18-year-old document into conformity with the town’s 2022 Comprehensive Plan, which lists among its goals the creation of a more walkable South Church Street by “prioritizing” bicycles and pedestrians.

In February, Smithfield’s Town Council accepted a $45,000 proposal by Chesterfield-based PaleoWest to perform the work, which is behind schedule. 

PaleoWest’s proposal called for a first draft of the rewritten entrance corridor guidelines by April, a second draft by July and a final version by October.

The 2005 document is “pretty well written already,” said Commissioner Randy Pack. “I don’t imagine anything being a major change to it.”

Among the design guideline changes recommended in the 2022 Comprehensive Plan are eliminating or changing floor area ratio requirements, which restrict the square footage of a proposed building relative to the square footage of the land on which it is located, and eliminating or reducing buffer yard setbacks to allow more varied property uses closer together.

Among the Planning Commission’s suggested updates is added language offering, or possibly requiring, developers to meet with one or two commissioners and town staff ahead of submitting a formal application for a proposed residential or commercial development.

Commissioner Julia Hillegass said these types of “pre-application” meetings used to be held prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some commissioners say restarting them could help avoid situations like the town saw with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles center now under construction on South Church Street.

In March, the commissioners received their first look at DMV developer Warren Sachs’ drawings of the building and rejected them as too modern, though Sachs contended – and town records showed – that he’d submitted them months earlier to town staff. Later that same month, the commissioners approved a new illustration showing the DMV redesigned to have a brick exterior in place of the originally proposed beige siding and gray concrete masonry.