Luter asks to withdraw Grange application

Published 5:41 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Joseph Luter IV has requested to withdraw his application for the controversial Grange at 10Main development.

Smithfield Mayor Steve Bowman told The Smithfield Times he’d been notified by town staff around 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 6 of Luter’s request.

Tammie Clary, director of community development and planning for the town, said a written request followed, which asked that the application for mixed-use zoning and six related special use permits be withdrawn “without prejudice.”

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The term, according to Clary, would allow the town to waive a provision of state law that would otherwise prohibit Luter from filing a similar application for the 57-acre Grange site for a year. 

Luter’s withdrawal request came less than a day after a late-night meeting of Smithfield’s Town Council, for the second month in a row, ended with the council postponing its vote on his application for mixed-use zoning and six related special use permits.

Luter himself, who declined to comment following the Sept. 5 postponement of the vote, did not immediately respond to the Times’ request for comments on the requested withdrawal.

Luter’s father, former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III, purchased and razed the former Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era Pierceville farmhouse in 2020, leaving roughly 57 developable acres at Route 10 and Main Street on the western edge of the town’s historic district. Luter IV, who’d filed his rezoning application in December, told Smithfield’s Planning Commission in May that his father was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lengthy approval process.

“My father’s fully prepared to let this land sit. … He’ll let somebody else buy it,” Luter IV stated at the Planning Commission’s May 9 meeting.

The Grange, as proposed in December, would have been anchored by a building on an extension of Grace Street that would have housed the town’s farmers market, a restaurant and one or more permanent retail spaces. Three- and four-story apartments, a hotel, detached commercial space and single-family and duplex housing were also proposed for the 304-home Grange.

Luter IV and the town’s anchor employer, Smithfield Foods, had each touted the Grange as a means of attracting more corporate jobs and prospective employees to the town. Riverside Smithfield Hospital, a 50-bed facility slated to open in early 2026 a few miles from the Grange site, had also supported the development.

The Grange, however, drew fierce opposition among downtown residents, particularly from those living on Main, Grace and Cary streets where entrances to the development were proposed. Some objected to the height of the apartments, while others focused their opposition on the roughly 5,500 vehicular trips per day a Virginia Department of Transportation letter in March estimated the Grange would add to downtown Smithfield’s roads.

We face an ongoing challenge of attracting employees, particularly younger professionals, who want to work and live in Smithfield,” said Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods. “The Grange project would most certainly enhance our recruitment efforts. It’s disappointing to see the project face such obstacles.”

Bowman said he remains optimistic that a future project will be proposed at the 57-acre site that “addresses the concerns of the citizens and my fellow council members while, at the same time, can be a development that is in the true tradition of Smithfield’s charm and character.”

Judy Winslow, director of the town’s and Isle of Wight County’s shared tourism department, told the Times by email on Sept. 6 that the farmers market will remain at its current location in the parking lot behind the Bank of Southside Virginia as her department continues to “explore other options to find a permanent home with the desired amenities.”

The Grange market building would have included 24 indoor vendor stalls and another 16 covered outdoor stalls, as well as a “village green” for vendors with tents.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:10 p.m. on Sept. 7 with additional details and comments.