Grange at 10Main vote set for Aug. 1

Published 4:19 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

Smithfield Mayor Steve Bowman plans to call for a vote on the proposed Grange at 10Main development immediately following the scheduled Aug. 1 public hearing and Town Council discussion on the matter.

At the council’s July 24 committee meetings, Bowman said he felt it would be “more appropriate to have the vote in close proximity to the debate” than to hold the hearing and postpone a decision for a month.

Bowman pledged to conduct an impartial hearing on whether to approve mixed-use zoning for the controversial nearly 57-acre, 304-home development proposed for the edge of the town’s historic district at Route 10 and Main Street. He’s expecting passions to run high on both sides.

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The development is proposed to include an indoor/outdoor farmers market, hotel, three- and four-story apartment buildings, commercial space, single-family and duplex homes and five short-term rental cottages.

Smithfield Foods, the town’s anchor employer, is among the project’s supporters. Developer Joseph Luter IV, a former executive vice president of Smithfield Foods and the son of the meatpacking giant’s former chairman, Joseph Luter III, contends the town has lost hundreds of Smithfield Foods jobs and no less than 10 annual events to neighboring cities because it currently lacks what’s proposed for the Grange. Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield, told The Smithfield Times in June that one of the company’s ongoing challenges is attracting employees, particularly younger professionals, to live and work in the town. Smithfield’s and Isle of Wight County’s shared tourism department has also been spurring support for the farmers market component.

On the other side of the debate, residents of Grace and Cary streets, which are slated to become entrances to the Grange, have repeatedly raised concerns over the thousands of vehicle trips per day a traffic study estimates the development would bring to Smithfield’s roads.

Luter IV and his team will be given time ahead of the opening of the hearing to make their case for the project, Bowman said. At the Planning Commission’s public hearing in May, Luter IV and his team were given just over 20 minutes. Town Manager Michael Stallings anticipates Luter IV will be given 30 minutes ahead of the Town Council hearing, though Bowman will have the final say.

“I want to hear it as if we’ve never heard anything before,” Bowman said.

Everyone who signs up at the start of the Aug. 1 meeting to speak at the public hearing will be given five minutes. The meeting is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. No method currently exists for residents to sign up to speak ahead of time, Stallings said. The sign-up sheet is typically available by 6 p.m.

The Grange proposal has been public since Luter IV filed his rezoning application in January, and has been in preliminary development since Luter III purchased and razed the former Little’s supermarket and 1730s-era Pierceville farmhouse in 2020.

Luter IV, in addition to rezoning, has requested a land use map amendment and six special use permits, among them one that requests a waiver of the town’s 35-foot maximum building height for the hotel and apartment buildings. The other five would allow multifamily units, allow the Grange to exceed the town’s 12-unit-per-acre maximum density for multifamily housing, waive parking and loading requirements, waive yard setback requirements and allow the short-term rental cottages. The Planning Commission recommended approval of each request save for the height waiver, which drew a 4-3 split recommendation for denial. Dr. Thomas Pope, one of the four commissioners who’d voted to recommend against the height waiver, clarified at the commission’s July 11 meeting that he was only opposed to the four-story apartment buildings, and not the three-story ones or the hotel.

The hotel would be 42 feet tall, the three-story apartments 39 feet and the four-story ones 46.5 feet.

In light of the heckling of Town Council members by meeting attendees two years ago when the Town Council approved the 812-home Mallory Pointe development at the former Mallory Scott Farm on Battery Park Road, police will be present to maintain order, Bowman said. Disruption of a public meeting, he noted, is a misdemeanor under Virginia law punishable by, at minimum, the offender’s removal from the meeting.

The requested rezoning, map amendment and six permits will each be voted on separately, Bowman said. Each will need at least four “yes” votes to pass.

Councilman Randy Pack, who is in negotiations with Luter IV to open a restaurant at the proposed market building that would anchor the Grange, pledged last year to recuse himself from voting on the development. A 3-3 tie vote would not pass.

According to Town Clerk Leslie King, the rezoning request will be voted upon first, followed by the land use map amendment, the permit for multifamily residences, the density waiver, the permit for short-term rental cottages, the parking and loading waiver, yard requirements waiver, and finally the building height waiver.

In the event that any of the requested approvals doesn’t achieve enough votes, Luter IV has the option under state law of appealing the council’s decision to Isle of Wight County’s Circuit Court, as the Pierceville farmhouse’s former owner, the late Mary Desk Crocker, did in 2019 when the council denied her petition to demolish the dilapidated home. 

Luter IV told the Planning Commission in May that his father is “fully prepared to let this land sit” or “let somebody else buy it,” noting the elder Luter had become frustrated with the lengthy approval process. Two commissioners, at that meeting, said they’d prefer to work with the Luters, given the family’s past contributions to the town, over an out-of-area developer, and expressed fears that the Luters would walk away.

Luter III’s contributions to the town include $5 million toward the development of Windsor Castle Park in 2009, $500,000 toward the building of a new Smithfield Little Theatre in 1999, and a portion of the $4 million Joseph Luter Jr. Sports Complex, named for Luter III’s father.

One component of the Grange that will not be discussed or voted upon on Aug. 1, Bowman said, is the “public-private partnership” Luter IV has proposed for funding the extension of the town’s infrastructure to the Grange site.

Luter IV told the Planning Commission in April he plans to seek “reimbursement” for the cost of the “public” components of the Grange. A Virginia Beach-based firm working with Luter IV estimated in January that the town and county could collectively owe more than $7 million as their share of the cost to extend sidewalks and utilities to the site, though Luter IV told the Times in May he expects the taxpayer-funded portion won’t be anywhere near as high, and would come from revenues generated by the development.

“Nowhere in any of those special use requests is there anything about any infrastructure payments by the town of Smithfield,” Bowman said at the council’s July 24 meeting.

If the Grange is approved, the Luters will have the opportunity to come back at a later date with a written reimbursement request, Bowman said, but “at this juncture, it’s not up for consideration.”

The Aug. 1 meeting will be held at The Smithfield Center and livestreamed to the town’s Facebook page: