Editorial – More than NIMBYism in Grange opposition

Published 4:47 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

A curious obsession of Town of Smithfield elected and appointed officials is to downplay citizen opposition to unpopular endeavors.

In the case of approving massive residential development at Nike and Battery Park roads in 2021, citizens were told that it was mostly “county people” who were opposed and that a so-called “silent majority” of townsfolk were just fine with 800-plus homes being built by a Virginia Beach developer.

Town voters corrected the delusion a couple of years later, tossing out of office a longtime mayor and good man in Carter Williams, who was the face of town leadership’s arrogance on the Mallory Pointe development. Likewise, they rewarded Wayne Hall, who had the citizenry’s back, with the most votes given to any incumbent on the ballot. So much for the silent majority.

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Mindful leaders would have learned a valuable lesson about the citizenry’s view of residential growth in this community, but, in the words of baseball great Yogi Berra, it’s “déjà vu all over again” in 2023 as certain members of the Planning Commission and Town Council attempt to minimize opposition to the Grange at 10Main, a proposed mixed-use development on the historic district’s western edge.

Now, we’re told it’s just those Grace Street and Goose Hill NIMBYs who are upset and wanting to obstruct progress. Hardly. The Grange is only slightly more popular than Mallory Pointe, the difference being a sentimental nod to the great Joseph Luter III. (We too have great respect for the giant contributions he made to our town, but such respect does not require blind obedience to whatever his son proposes.)

The Times has a great vantage point on community controversies, interacting daily with our thousands of readers, who never hesitate to tell us what they’re thinking. Trust us when we say that Grange opposition extends far beyond Grace Street.

We’re not suggesting that elected leaders should be bound by public sentiment. There are times in elected leadership to put principle above politics, and if a Town Council member or planning commissioner believes the Grange at 10Main is in Smithfield’s best interest despite widespread citizen opposition, by all means make your case and vote to approve it. But to attempt to justify that vote by mischaracterizing the opposition is a bad look.

That’s especially true for the Planning Commission, which is charged with putting a critical eye on proposals, examining compliance with the town’s comprehensive plan and ensuring that even the most technical aspects of a developer’s plan serve the best interest of the citizenry. Politics should be the least of a planning commissioner’s concern, yet several of them wasted valuable time at the commission’s meetings on the Grange downplaying opposition and denigrating those, including this newspaper, who have simply called for more transparency and accountability on a transformational project. We’re more appreciative than ever of Dr. Thomas Pope, Julia Hillegass and James Yoko, who understand their role and handle their responsibilities exceptionally well.