Editorial – Critical info still missing on Grange

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Smithfield Town Council members should insist on a full set of facts before casting a series of critical votes on the Grange at 10Main, the ambitious mixed-use development proposed for the western edge of the historic district.

That includes details of the developer’s expectation of taxpayer funding of some of the project’s infrastructure. To date, all citizens and council members know is that Joseph Luter IV plans to seek some sort of reimbursement from the town and Isle of Wight County, which already have pledged millions in funding for a new farmers market that would be a centerpiece of the Grange and house the development’s restaurant. 

What little is known currently about taxpayer involvement in the project is the result of transparency by county government, which provided to this newspaper a January document laying out the developer’s then expectations of receiving 75% of town and county tax revenues caused by the development for seven years to repay him for more than $7 million in infrastructure ($10 million-plus with interest). Luter has since said that updated estimates are much lower, but he refused to give them to a town planning commissioner who pushed for details and told the Times last week that neither will Town Council members be given them before an Aug. 1 public hearing and possible vote on rezoning the property.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Luter first said in May that the town had instructed him not to release the information prezoning, then backtracked and said that he was following a supposedly widely understood process for such matters, an assertion backed by the town attorney, though neither has cited any statutory prohibition on town officials having full financing information before making a decision. Of interest, Luter wants council members to consider in their zoning votes the tax revenues the project will cause, but how much of that revenue is proposed to go to him and his partners is none of the council’s business at this stage.  

Surely the council will demand a net number. Once the property is rezoned as Planned Mixed Use Development, or PMUD, it would eliminate an important step in the approval process for future developers who seek to do something similar with the property should the Luter project fall through. 

We talk to many citizens and public officials, both town and county, who share our view that the Grange would be good for Smithfield but shouldn’t be subsidized by taxpayers. A new narrative being floated by project promoters, including Luter’s Virginia Beach business partners, is that this is the way such projects get done. That might be the case in the big cities where they live and do business, but it would be unprecedented in Smithfield, which doesn’t aspire to be another Virginia Beach or Chesapeake or Newport News. With due respect, we don’t need consultants from those places telling us how development works. We’re quite intelligent enough to assess the facts, if given them, and understand what is in our community’s best interest.

If the Grange needs town and county taxpayers’ involvement in order to be built, a council member should know that, and to what extent, before rezoning the property.