Aug. 31 Grange work session won’t include public comments

Published 4:35 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Supporters and opponents of the Grange at 10Main won’t get another opportunity to speak on the proposed 304-home development at an Aug. 31 Smithfield Town Council work session.

According to Mayor Steve Bowman, the 6:30 p.m. meeting won’t include a public comment period since a formal public hearing on the Grange was already held on Aug. 1.

The Aug. 1 meeting saw 2½ hours of citizen comments by 34 speakers, 23 in opposition. Grange developer Joseph Luter IV was given 30 minutes at the start of the hearing to make his case for the project.

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Luter’s design team won’t make another formal presentation at the work session, Town Manager Michael Stallings said, but will likely be in attendance to answer questions from council members.

Councilman Mike Smith, who’d proposed the work session and one-month postponement of the vote on Luter’s mixed-use zoning application, had stated his desire at the Aug. 1 meeting that Luter and his team “work closer with the public” to address lingering questions. The potential for increased traffic on Grace and Main streets, both of which are proposed to serve as entrances to the Grange, was a frequently repeated concern at the hearing. A March letter from the Virginia Department of Transportation to the town estimated the Grange would likely generate roughly 5,500 daily vehicular trips.

Bowman, in an Aug. 8 email to council members, asked each to submit their Grange questions to Stallings by the close of business on Aug. 14, and tasked Stallings with sharing a master list of each member’s concerns with the body.

The lack of a public comment period “does not, in any way, mean you cannot seek input from your constituents prior to the submission of your questions,” Bowman wrote. “In fact, I encourage it.”

Councilwoman Renee Rountree, who had made the motion to approve the requested zoning for the Grange as-is on Aug. 1 prior to Smith’s substitute motion to table the vote, submitted 11 questions to Bowman in the Aug. 8 thread, among them one concerning mitigation options for the increased downtown traffic. She’s also requesting that Isle of Wight County Economic Development Director Chris Morello and Judy Winslow, director of the town and county’s shared tourism department, be present to further explain the public-private partnership that would govern the farmers market.

Winslow had stated at the Aug. 1 meeting that a “skeleton working model” has begun to address how to “condominiumize” the market building, which would house not only currently seasonal, tourism-run Smithfield Farmers Market, but also a permanent retailer and restaurant.

Rountree has asked Winslow to specifically speak to concerns raised at the Aug. 1 hearing over whether current farmers market vendors, who pay a $75 application fee for an outdoor booth at the Bank of Southside Virginia parking lot, would be able to afford space at the Grange.

Vice Mayor Valerie Butler, who also expressed support for the Grange at the Aug. 1 meeting but voted for Smith’s motion to table, stated in the Aug. 8 thread that she would like more information on how to evaluate the concerns residents raised over the project’s density. One of Luter’s requested permits would waive the town’s 12-unit-per-acre maximum density for multifamily housing to permit three- and four-story apartment buildings, which would have a density of 27.5 units per acre. The entire roughly 57-acre site, however, would have a density of fewer than eight units per acre.