Grange vote, funding could affect sidewalk project

Published 12:49 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Developers of the Grange at 10Main were at one time prepared to front the cost of extending Smithfield’s brick sidewalks to the proposed development at Route 10 and Main Street, but were told by the town in January that public money would cover the expense.

The outcome of Grange developer Joseph Luter IV’s application for mixed-use zoning, and any subsequent cost-sharing agreement, could also affect an overlapping Isle of Wight County project at the intersection.

Tip Brown of Venture Realty Group, a Virginia Beach-based firm working with Luter, emailed Town Manager Michael Stallings on Jan. 9 asking if Smithfield or the county had approved a capital improvement project for extending Main Street’s brick sidewalks to Route 10.

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“If so, we can remove it from our infrastructure budget for our proposed Cost Participation Agreement,” Brown wrote.

Stallings, in a same-day reply to Brown, told him Smithfield had agreed to put money from the sale of town-owned land at Washington and James streets toward the cost of constructing the sidewalks.

The Smithfield Times obtained the email thread through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Smithfield’s Town Council approved the sale of the land at Washington and James to LSMP LLC, Luter’s holding company for the Grange project, in 2021 for a smaller, eight-home development.

Luter agreed to a purchase price of $225,000, conditioned on the town using the money to extend Main Street’s sidewalks to the Grange.

Stallings told The Smithfield Times the condition was included in the sale agreement the council approved in 2021. The contract, included in the council’s May 4, 2021, agenda package, obligates the town to “use the sale proceeds for the construction of brick sidewalks and other public improvements along Main Street in the Historic District.”

The use of public money to fund components of the Grange has been a sticking point for the development’s opponents. Luter, at the town Planning Commission’s April review of the Grange, said he planned to seek “reimbursement” for the cost of “public” components. The Town Council and Isle of Wight County supervisors voted in October to each commit up to $1.4 million toward the construction of a building that would anchor the Grange by housing the Smithfield Farmers Market, a restaurant and retail space.

As of the same date as Brown’s email to Stallings, Venture Realty had estimated the town and county could collectively owe Luter more than $7 million, or 75% of the annual tax revenue generated by the Grange, as their share of the proposed cost participation agreement.

Luter told the Times in May he expects the taxpayer-funded portion of the agreement won’t be anywhere near that high, but he has not provided an updated estimate. Smithfield Mayor Steve Bowman said cost sharing won’t be a factor in the Town Council’s vote on the requested rezoning, since Luter has yet to formally request any such reimbursement in writing in any of the documentation submitted in the Grange’s application.

The council was originally set to vote Aug. 1 on the application but deferred the matter to Sept. 5 pending the outcome of an Aug. 31 work session with Luter and his design team.

Luter, in an Aug. 21 email to the Times, said he didn’t have a current cost estimate for extending brick sidewalks to the Grange, and that it remained his understanding that the proceeds from the Washington and James street sale would fund the work.

The county, Stallings told Brown in January, is working on an overlapping sidewalk project intended to extend walkways from downtown Smithfield to Westside Elementary. The section of the county project that will cross the nearly 57-acre Grange site is to be temporary, Stallings said, until the Grange plans are solidified.

The town, as of Jan. 9, had not put any money in its capital improvements plan for the sidewalks “because we did not know the timeline or layouts for the sidewalks,” Stallings told Brown.

No mention of the sidewalks was included in the 2024-28 capital improvement plan the Town Council adopted on June 26.


What happens to the sidewalk project if the Grange isn’t approved?

As of early 2022, the county sidewalk project was estimated at $1.5 million and set to begin this December. According to County Administrator Don Robertson, Isle of Wight is completing right-of-way acquisition and expects to advertise the sidewalk project for construction this fall or early winter. Construction, he noted, is weather-dependent and may not begin until spring 2024.

The county sidewalk project is largely funded with grant money. The work will span from the 400 block of Main Street to Westside Elementary along the school’s side of the road, and from Great Spring Road’s intersection with Main Street to its intersection with Quail Street.

Also in the works is an $8.4 million project to add through and turn lanes to the Route 10-and-Main intersection. The project is funded through Smart Scale, a Virginia Department of Transportation formula that allocates state money based on a project’s cost versus regional benefit. According to the county’s website, construction is to begin in January 2026.

“We are coordinating closely with the Town as a key stakeholder on both of these construction projects and the final outcome of the Grange application will be incorporated as necessary as they move forward,” Robertson  said.

As of Aug. 1, three council members – Bowman, Vice Mayor Valerie Butler and Councilwoman Renee Rountree – said they were prepared to vote in favor of the Grange as-is. But three others – Councilmen Jeff Brooks, Wayne Hall and Mike Smith – were not.

The council’s seventh member, Councilman Randy Pack, recused himself and left the meeting, citing his prospective involvement in the Luter project. He’s in negotiations to run the restaurant that would anchor the Grange’s farmers market building.

The segment of the sidewalk that would directly front the Grange “will be an interim installation at this time,” Robertson said.

The final curb-and-gutter work, he said, will be installed as part of the Smart Scale intersection project.

“We don’t want to have to install the sidewalk now and then remove it to install the new turn lane in two years,” Robertson said.