Editorial – Eager to see new, improved Grange proposal

Published 4:45 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

We’re pleased by the news that Joseph Luter IV plans to submit a revised plan for the Grange at 10Main.

A thoughtful, modest-sized mixed-use development on the western edge of Smithfield’s historic district would give downtown an economic boost, grow the town’s strained tax base and beautify an important gateway to the community.

To be successful, Luter — and his supporters inside and outside of government — must heed some lessons from his failed first shot at getting the development approved. Specifically:

  • Be transparent. The original Grange plan was doomed from the time town and county elected officials met with Luter a few days before Christmas in 2021 and began plotting taxpayer involvement in the project without inviting taxpayers themselves to listen to the discussion. It launched a secretive process that never earned the trust of the citizens to whom politicians are accountable.
  • Leave taxpayers out of it. There’s simply no appetite in Virginia’s seventh fastest-growing county for subsidizing private development. Residential growth is already happening, arguably at a rate faster than current and planned infrastructure can accommodate. Unlike other rural communities that are starved for residential and community growth, Smithfield can be choosy. The conversation should be what developers can do for us rather than what we can do for developers.
  • Engage citizens. Instead of working behind the scenes to find votes from politicians, get out in the community, talk to citizens and make a plan that is sensitive to their concerns. Instead of ram-rodding a farmers market that has not been properly studied, designate a chunk of green space for future public use, then start an important community conversation about what to put there.   
  • Size it proportionately. A development that would singlehandedly double the population of Main and Grace streets, as the original Grange plan would have done, risks ruining the charm and quaintness that make Smithfield special.
  • Keep traffic off Grace and Cary streets. The Luter family and town leadership must — ethically, of course — use every ounce of their influence to convince the Virginia Department of Transportation to allow controlled access to the old Pierceville farm from Route 10, similar to what was done for Cypress Creek subdivision many years ago. The Luters should at least have the ear of Virginia’s head honcho, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, after the Grange’s holding company, LSMP LLC, contributed $1 million to his 2021 gubernatorial campaign, the largest donation to Youngkin not counting Republican Party and PAC support.

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There’s a segment of the citizenry that won’t be happy with anything Luter proposes. But many critics of the original plan stand ready to support a right-sized, responsible development that enhances downtown and turns a nice profit for the developer.