Smithfield Foods appeals BHAR denial of request to raze historic barn

Published 5:14 pm Friday, November 10, 2023

Smithfield’s Town Council has postponed voting on whether to overrule its Board of Historic and Architectural Review, which in September denied Smithfield Foods permission to demolish a barn on company-owned land behind Cure coffeehouse on North Church Street.

Amy McClure, a lawyer representing the company, contends the 1,144-square-foot barn has “deteriorated to a point where it no longer has any historical value” and is no longer safe.

Smithfield Foods appealed the denial on Sept. 25, six days after the BHAR vote, in accordance with a provision of the town’s zoning ordinance that gives an applicant a 14-day window from the date of BHAR decision to request reconsideration by the Town Council.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Julie Hess, a newly appointed representative to the seven-member BHAR, contends that the barn dates to the 1880s and that not every option for restoring or relocating it has been exhausted.

“It doesn’t have to be moved as an entire structure; you can take it down,” Hess said. “Yes, I know it’s a lot of work, but things take work. The bottom line is not the end all be all.”

Hess made her remarks during the council’s Nov. 8 public hearing on Smithfield Foods’ appeal. The hearing drew three other speakers opposed to the demolition, and one who joined with Foods in wanting the barn removed from its current location.

Leigh Abbott Leaman, whose home on Thomas Street abuts the parcel on which the barn is located, said while she’s all for removing the barn, she’d like to see it dismantled in such a way that it could be repurposed or re-erected at another location.

“It absolutely is a hazard; I think the dead vegetation is probably the only thing holding it together,” Leaman said. “The roof is a very large concern to us. Whenever there is a storm, whenever there is high wind, we don’t know what parts of this building are going to come flying off.”

“I’d like to see it preserved,” said Councilman Jeff Brooks. “We have BHAR for a reason; they know their business.”

Town Attorney William Riddick, however, contends the town lacks the legal authority to compel Smithfield Foods to retain and repair the barn at its current location, citing the town’s loss in court when the late owner of the now-demolished 18th century Pierceville farmhouse sued the town in 2019 over its denial of permission to raze it. The case ended in 2020 with the town being court-ordered to reconsider its denial, which it did in December of that year. The Pierceville house was razed later that same month to make way for the Grange at 10Main community that developer Joseph Luter IV has proposed for the western edge of the town’s historic district.

Mayor Steve Bowman joined with the other council members to make the vote to table Smithfield Foods’ appeal unanimous, but said he would support no more than a one-month delay. Smithfield Foods’ request to demolish the barn first appeared on BHAR’s agenda in March of this year.

“This has been going on for a while and all involved deserve a decision,” Bowman said.

Riddick too advised against delaying any longer, stating the one-month postponement would allow time for the town to approach Smithfield Foods about the possibility of relocating parts or all of the barn.

“It’s fine to table it for 30 days and enter into discussions with (Smithfield Foods)and see if that’s something they want to do, but then you have to make a decision,” Riddick said.