Smithfield planners unanimously back revised Grange plan

Published 10:01 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A retooled plan for the Grange at 10Main with 37 fewer residences hasn’t placated all opponents of the mixed-use development. It did, however, persuade Planning Commissioner Thomas Pope, who had opposed components of the original project, to this time join with the other members of the advisory body on Nov. 14 to unanimously recommend approval for developer Joseph Luter IV’s application for mixed-use zoning and six related special use permits.

Luter in September had asked to withdraw his application for a version of the Grange that had proposed 304 homes and a mix of commercial uses at the western edge of the town’s historic district. Melissa Venable of Land Planning Solutions, which Luter had hired to assist with the project’s planning and engineering, rescinded the withdrawal request on Oct. 4, writing to town officials that Luter planned to “submit a revised plan” that would “reflect a reduction in density” and “eliminate the fourth floor of the multifamily apartments” that had been the subject of debate at Planning Commission and Town Council meetings.

The revised plan shows 267 residences. These would consist of 48 single-family homes, down from 53; 32 duplex units; five short-term rental cottages; and 182 apartment units, down from 212. A Virginia Department of Transportation letter dated Oct. 31 estimates the development would add roughly 4,700 daily vehicular trips to Smithfield’s roads, down from the 5,500 VDOT projected based on Luter’s initial design.

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“At this point, I can’t continue to object,” said Pope, who in June voted with four other commissioners to recommend denial of a special use permit that had requested a waiver of the town’s 35-foot maximum building height to allow then-proposed four-story apartment buildings.

Each apartment building in the revised plan would be only three stories.

The commissioners, in a series of eight separate votes on Nov. 14, recommended approval of Luter’s request for the new planned mixed-use development, or “PMUD,” zoning option the town created in 2022, his request for a future land use map amendment to the town’s comprehensive plan, and each of the six special use permits. In addition to the height waiver, the other five special use permits would allow multifamily housing, waive yard setback requirements, allow short-term rentals, waive parking and loading requirements and waive the town’s 12-unit-per-acre maximum density for multifamily housing to permit 23.6 units per acre, down from the 31-per-acre proposed in September.

Commissioner Randy Pack abstained from each vote on count of his negotiations with Luter to potentially run a restaurant in the market building that would anchor the development. Commissioner James Yoko, who had joined with Pope in June to oppose the four-story apartments and had cast the one dissenting vote that same month on the density waiver, was absent this time.

Ahead of the votes, 12 speakers used the time reserved for public comments at the Planning Commission’s monthly meeting to argue too little had changed from the original proposal.

Bill Harris, a resident of Grace Street where an entrance to the development is still proposed, said 4,700 daily vehicular trips is “still far too many.” Also unchanged from the original plan are entrances on Cary and Main streets, and a right-turn-only ingress from Route 10.

Richard Linyear Sr., who’d previously spoken against plans for a stormwater pond by the Schoolhouse Museum to serve the development, noted the pond remains in the October plans.

A 13th speaker, Herb De Groft, was the only one to urge support for the project, though the town’s anchor employer, Smithfield Foods, and the 50-bed Riverside Smithfield Hospital set to open its doors in 2026 had each publicly advocated for the original Grange plan.

According to Luter, the updated plans call for a turn lane to be added to Mill Swamp Road where it becomes Cary Street to divert incoming traffic from Isle of Wight County away from downtown and into the Grange. He contends that access point will help alleviate some of the traffic concerns.

Luter said he remains in contact with VDOT to discuss the possibility of expanding the proposed Route 10 access to allow incoming and outgoing traffic. VDOT spokesman Timothy Kelley had told The Smithfield Times in January that Route 10 is considered a “limited access” bypass around Smithfield that isn’t designed to allow additional breaks in through traffic.

Pope cited a desire to preserve the town’s cordial relationship with Smithfield Foods, and the changes Luter made, among his reasons for reconsidering his earlier opposition. Luter, a former executive vice president with the company, contends that of the roughly 450 people employed at Foods’ corporate headquarters on Commerce Street, fewer than 10% live in Smithfield.

According to Tammie Clary, director of community development and planning for the town, the public will have another opportunity to speak on the Grange when it goes for a formal public hearing on Dec. 5 at the Town Council level. The council will have the option of voting on Luter’s application that same evening, she said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:07 p.m. on Nov. 21 with additional details.