Grange approved in series of 3-2 Town Council votes

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Smithfield’s Town Council voted 3-2 on Dec. 5 to approve mixed-use zoning and six related special use permits for the Grange at 10Main development proposed for the western edge of the town’s historic district.

Mayor Steve Bowman, Vice Mayor Valerie Butler and Councilwoman Renee Rountree each voted in favor of developer Joseph Luter IV’s plans for the former Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era Pierceville farm Luter’s father, former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III, purchased and razed in 2020.

Councilmen Jeff Brooks and Mike Smith cast dissenting votes on eight separate motions by Rountree and Butler to approve the rezoning, future land use map amendment to Smithfield’s comprehensive plan, and the six special use permits.

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Ahead of each vote, Brooks made a substitute motion to table the matter for 60 days, citing an upcoming Dec. 19 special meeting at which the council plans to appoint two new members to fill available seats. Rountree was elected Nov. 7 to the Smithfield-centric District 1 seat on Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors and must resign her council seat by Jan. 1 to take her county office. Ex-councilman Wayne Hall, who faces a misdemeanor charge connected to his allegedly groping a woman, resigned the same day as Rountree’s electoral win, which decreased the number of votes the Grange needed to pass from four to three.

Smith seconded each of Brooks’ substitute motions, though each was voted down 3-2 by Bowman, Butler and Rountree.

Councilman Randy Pack abstained from each vote on count of his negotiations with the Luters to run a restaurant in a building that would also house the town’s farmers market and anchor the Grange’s commercial phase.

Luter IV had asked to withdraw his Grange application in September, which at that time had proposed 304 homes and a mix of commercial uses. 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Venable of Land Planning Solutions, which Luter had hired to assist with the project’s planning and engineering, rescinded the withdrawal request on Oct. 4 and by November had submitted a revised plan to the town’s Planning Commission eliminating the fourth floor of controversial four-story apartment buildings to achieve a lower 267-home density. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended the revised plan’s approval on Nov. 14.

A nearly hour-long public hearing the council held ahead of the eight votes drew 14 speakers, 10 of whom said they still opposed components of the revised Grange. Town Manager Michael Stallings, prior to the closing of the hearing, read aloud from a petition he said he’d received earlier in the day on Dec. 5 in support of the Grange signed by 40 residents, including its chief circulator, former Councilman Milton Cook.

Commerce Street resident Darren Cutler, who spoke in opposition at the hearing, called the proposed houses and apartments “cookie-cutter,” and criticized the more than $600,000 price point that Luter’s development team had proposed as of August for the single-family and duplex homes as unaffordable. 

Smithfield resident Dick Grice, whom Rountree is succeeding on the Board of Supervisors, urged support for the Grange, as did town resident and Smithfield Foods retiree Martha Russ, who characterized the project’s opponents as a “vocal minority.”

Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield Foods, also reiterated the town anchor employer’s unwavering support for the Grange, which he contends will provide attractive housing options and amenities for young professionals hired to work at the company’s Commerce Street corporate headquarters.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:34 p.m. on Dec. 6 to note Councilman Randy Pack abstained from each vote. An earlier version of this story had also incorrectly listed Martha Russ as a resident of Carrollton.