Organizer of Grange opposition mounts write-in campaign for supervisor

Published 4:21 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2023

An organizer of community opposition to the controversial Grange at 10Main development is mounting a last-minute write-in campaign for a seat on Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors.

Chris Torre announced on Sept. 19 he will challenge current Smithfield Town Councilwoman Renee Rountree for the county board’s District 1 seat.

Dick Grice, who’s represented the Smithfield-centric district since 2016, announced earlier this year he would not seek a third term in office.

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Rountree was the only candidate to file by the June 20 deadline to get her name on the ballot, and as such will be the only candidate listed. As is the case with all races, voters have the option of writing in a name of their choosing. 

Torre, whose campaign website pledges “transparency” and to “end reckless spending,” is hoping they’ll choose him.

“It has appeared to me as though the governing bodies just do whatever they feel like doing, secure in the knowledge that they can get away with it,” Torre said. “They just ignore the public sentiment; they ignore the public’s will.”

Torre cited developer Joseph Luter IV’s now-scrapped plans for the Grange, which would have added 304 residences and a mix of commercial uses at the western edge of the town’s historic district, as the impetus for his bid to become the district’s next supervisor, and a key difference between himself and Rountree.

Rountree issued the following statement after learning of Torre’s write-in campaign: “If Mr. Torre was a legitimate candidate, he would have obtained signatures of citizens, and would have gone through the same process as others who have qualified to be on the ballot.”

Rountree voted last October with a majority of council members to commit up to $1.4 million in town funds toward moving the Smithfield Farmers Market to a building that would have anchored the Grange and also housed a restaurant and retail space. Rountree, at the council’s Aug. 8 meeting, was one of three council members to express support for the development after 2½  hours of citizen comments by 34 speakers during a public hearing on Luter’s rezoning application.

Two-thirds spoke in opposition to the Grange. Among the opposition speakers was Torre, who contended the thousands of vehicular trips the Grange was projected to add to Smithfield’s roads would turn Main Street into a “Los Angeles-class traffic snarl.”

Rountree, at the Aug. 1 council meeting, made a motion to approve mixed-use zoning for the Grange, prompting Councilman Mike Smith to make a substitute motion to table the application for a month. When Councilman Jeff Brooks, on Sept. 5, made a motion to deny Luter’s zoning request, this time Rountree made a substitute motion to table the matter and remand the application to the town’s Planning Commission. 

Luter, following the two consecutive votes to postpone action, asked on Sept. 6 to withdraw his application for the Grange.

Torre says if elected he’d like to become “an advocate” for the people of Smithfield.

“Somebody needs to listen; somebody needs to get their message out,” Torre said.

Rountree, vice president of a telehealth company, was elected to Smithfield’s Town Council in 2020. Torre, a retired developer of commercial real estate, ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2018.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 8:53 a.m. Sept. 22 to correct the date of the August council meeting.