Letter – Grange needs more vetting
Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023
Editor, The Smithfield Times:
On May 4, 2022, Joe Luter IV took out a full-page ad in The Smithfield Times to outline the vision he and his father have for the development at Route 258 and Main Street. In that ad, he highlighted his father’s ties to the area and some of the critical elements they wanted to include: farmers market, housing, retail space, restaurants, green space and parking.
He indicated they had enlisted the help of Historical Concepts, a premier land planner out of Atlanta. He also stated that his father intends to “contribute any of his profits back to the town for future needs and improvements.” He stressed that they, unlike other developers, are not looking to maximize density and profits.
It was easy to embrace all of that. The ad also stated that they would be submitting a formal plan within the next 90 days.
In fact, the plan was presented publicly for the first time in April 2023. They have since eliminated the highly regarded Historical Concepts from the planning and now plan to request taxpayer reimbursement for the common area infrastructure. Based on the initial information discovered in a FOIA request by The Smithfield Times, the developer wants to be reimbursed 75% of the gross tax revenue that the project generates for seven years. That works out to over $10 million. What happened to donating his profits back to the town?
Smithfield taxpayers do not need to subsidize development. Joe Luter IV also stated publicly that he plans to turn the development over to Venture Realty Group after they complete the hotel, Farmers Market and commercial space. Take a look at some of the projects that Venture Realty Group has been involved in and decide for yourself if that is what is appropriate for downtown historic Smithfield.
There is no denying that Joe Luter III loves this town; his tremendous contributions started with helping to brick the sidewalks in the 1980s and continued with turning the old high school into the very popular YMCA, developing Windsor Castle Park, building the Luter Family Sports Complex and even locating his Fortune 500 company in downtown Smithfield. The town has had just four months to review and ask questions about the largest, most transformational development in the history of Smithfield. That is just not enough time.
Careful, thoughtful and thorough review of the Grange will ensure Joe Luter III’s legacy for philanthropy, attention to detail and exemplary design will be upheld.