Will it handle the traffic, and other Grange questions, answered at work session

Published 5:20 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

A traffic engineer working for Grange at 10Main developer Joseph Luter IV contends the development’s design should be more than sufficient to handle the thousands of daily vehicular trips it’s projected to add to Smithfield’s roads.

Plans for the Grange show vehicle access from Main and Grace streets to the farmers market building that would anchor the 304-home mixed-use development, as well as access from Cary Street and a right-turn-only entrance from Route 10.

Karen McPherson, president and owner of McPherson Consulting, told Town Council members at an Aug. 31 work session that planned turn lanes and the multiple access points would “meet the development not only at full buildout” in 2030 but also “six years beyond that, which accounts for other growth in the area.”

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Mayor Steve Bowman had asked council members in an Aug. 8 email to submit questions by Aug. 14 for the work session.

A March letter from the Virginia Department of Transportation to the town estimated the Grange would add roughly 5,500 daily vehicular trips, and largely agreed with an earlier traffic study by McPherson’s firm. The added traffic has been a frequently referenced point of opponents of the development.

McPherson told the council that early plans for the Grange had called for access to Route 10 for incoming and outgoing traffic, which was nixed when VDOT issued a “strong statement” last year urging that the Route 10 connection be an entrance only.

When the traffic issue came up previously at a January meeting between Luter’s team and the project’s neighbors, VDOT spokesman Tim Kelley told The Smithfield Times that Route 10 is considered a “limited access” bypass around Smithfield.

“That roadway is especially designed for through traffic and abutting properties do not have easement or right of access,” Kelley said. “Any additional entrances create conflict points that may obstruct through traffic and present a safety issue.”

Kelley confirmed that Luter’s original request for full access to Route 10 was “discouraged,” which led to the current right-in-only access proposed.

McPherson and Kelley each noted if Luter’s request for mixed-use zoning and related permits is granted when the council votes on the matter at its Sept. 5 meeting, Luter will still need to apply to the 17-member Commonwealth Transportation Board for approval of his plans to access Route 10.

Mayor Steve Bowman questioned the logic behind VDOT’s reasoning, noting that roughly a mile north of where the Grange would connect to Route 10 is the T-intersection of the bypass and Berry Hill Road, which facilitates incoming and outgoing traffic from Route 10 to Smithfield Foods’ meatpacking plant.


Is a flyover an option?

Roughly three-quarters of a mile south of the Grange’s proposed Route 10 entrance are on- and off-ramps leading to a flyover, or overpass, that facilitates access to and from the 450-home Cypress Creek development.

Councilwoman Renee Rountree, a resident of Cypress Creek, questioned whether a similar structure could facilitate two-way traffic between Route 10 and the Grange without disrupting through traffic on the bypass.

Another overpass is located at Cary Street, but without on- and off-ramps onto Route 10. Cary, McPherson said, averages 2,000 daily vehicle trips.

“That volume of traffic does not warrant a grade-separated interchange with Route 10,” McPherson said.


Another Benn’s Grant?

Land Planning Solutions President Melissa Venable, whom Luter hired to assist with planning and engineering for the Grange, had previously worked on plans for Benn’s Grant, a development located 5 miles south of the proposed Grange site.

A full-page advertisement published in the Aug. 30 edition of the Times by a group of self-described “concerned citizens” drew attention to a circa-2009 Benn’s Grant plan that had, like the Grange, called for downtown-style housing modeled after historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina.

“That’s not what was built,” Venable acknowledged at the work session. While Land Planning Solutions remains involved with Riverside Smithfield Hospital, which is being built on land adjacent to Benn’s Grant, Venable asserted her involvement with the housing development itself ended in 2009.

The development stalled until 2014 when a different developer took over the project and sought – and received – Isle of Wight County’s approval to eliminate the 2009-proposed “new urbanism” or “traditional neighborhood design,” according to past reporting by the Times.

Venable called the ad’s comparison of Benn’s Grant to the Grange “terribly misleading.”


How is the EDA involved?

A fiscal impact study prepared by Ted Figura Consulting for Luter’s holding company, LSMP LLC, anticipates the market building would be sold to Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority upon completion. The building would house the town’s farmers market, a restaurant and one or more permanent retailers.

Language in an early draft of the study, which was struck from a June 3 update to the document, made references to an “economic development incentive” for a hotel at the Grange site. Figura, in the earlier draft, had speculated this would entail the EDA issuing a grant to the hotel “equal to the amount, or a portion of the amount, of taxes paid to the locality.”

Economic Development Director Chris Morello told the Times in August the EDA had yet to discuss any specific arrangements at its meetings, and was waiting to do so until the Town Council takes its final vote on the rezoning application.

Morello, at the Aug. 31 work session, described the EDA as a “political subdivision” of the state and a separately operating “business arm” of the county.

EDAs, he said, can enter into contractual agreements with private entities, acquire land for industrial and business parks, sell land for private development, provide financing or incentives to businesses and act as the fiscal agent for a multi-party agreement.

Judy Winslow, director of the town’s and county’s shared tourism department, said at the council’s Aug. 1 meeting that the market would be “managed by the EDA” through memorandums of understanding with the town, county, restaurateur and occupants of the retail spaces.

A “common area maintenance fee,” or CAM, would be charged to the restaurant and retailers to maintain the space and surrounding sidewalks, Winslow had stated.

Morello said at the Aug. 31 work session that a CAM is in place for businesses at the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, which entails the EDA collecting a CAM fee from the businesses and using that money to maintain the park’s landscaping.


Can farmers market vendors afford the indoor Grange spaces?

The Grange plans call for 24 indoor vendor spaces, some with glass garage doors that could open the booths to the outdoors on scheduled farmers market days. Pavilions erected outside the building would provide another 16 outdoor covered spaces. A grass field referred to on plans as the “village green” would provide additional space for vendors with tents.

The tourism-run farmers market currently charges vendors $75 per year plus 5% of their daily sales, or a $15 minimum.

“We anticipate that the farmers market would be managed exactly the way it is now,” Winslow told the council at the Aug. 31 work session.

Once the building is built with funds from Smithfield, Isle of Wight, the restaurateur and Luter, “there would be no mortgage on that building at that point,” Winslow said. “So the vendors would not be burdened with that to pay for.”

An early draft of the Figura study estimated the cost of the market building at $7.8 million. Luter and his father, former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III, offered in 2022 to donate land plus $1 million toward construction costs, conditioned on the town and county putting up $2.8 million. Each locality voted in October to contribute $1.4 million.

The same early draft estimated the restaurateur would pay $1.5 million toward the construction cost, leaving an estimated $2.5 million of costs with a then-unidentified source of funding.

Luter IV, at the Aug. 31 work session, said that due to volatility in the construction market, he still only has estimates and no hard cost for the market building, but asserted his team is “very close” to achieving full funding.