Editorial – Growth machine keeps churning

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

A consultant’s projection of more than a thousand new students in Isle of Wight’s public schools in the years ahead, putting four school buildings over capacity, should be alarming news to anyone who cares about our community’s well-being. 

Not so for Smithfield’s elected and appointed leaders, who keep approving huge housing developments and fawning over the developers peddling them. So much for managed growth.

Managed growth requires, well, a little management. In Smithfield, we don’t manage it. We just find ways to approve it.

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The latest blow to our anti-suburban, small-town, rural way of life was dealt by just three members of a seven-member Smithfield Town Council, a body beleaguered by scandal and internal strife. They saw an opening with the resignation of Councilman Wayne Hall, one of two sitting council members charged with crimes, and jammed through the controversial Grange at 10Main mixed-use development on the edge of the historic district. The decisive third vote was provided by the second criminal defendant, Renee Rountree, who is scheduled to stand trial this week for her alleged involvement in the theft of political signs from a candidate who believes, with persuasive data to back him up, that Smithfield and northern Isle of Wight are growing faster than their infrastructure can accommodate. Goodness, the irony.

After Joe Luter IV withdrew his Grange application in the fall, town leaders had an opportunity to engage with citizens and the developer and build a viable plan that wouldn’t overwhelm residential streets with vehicular traffic and that would complement Smithfield’s thriving tourism industry and vibrant downtown retail economy. They refused to do so. By a 3-2 vote, the Town Council set in motion a near doubling of the historic district’s population with a single development.

And so the growth machine churns on, dirt now moving on the massive and largely despised Mallory Pointe development in northern Smithfield, the Grange not far behind. 

We see at least see some encouraging signs from the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission, which for the first time has considered the possibility that a big housing project might not be a good idea.   

The Planning Commission last month again tabled a vote on the proposed Sweetgrass subdivision off Benns Grant Boulevard, with several members, but not a majority, expressing deep concerns about rapid growth with no master plan to cope with it. Smithfield Planning Commissioner Thomas Pope earlier this year expressed concern that the town was not considering the cumulative impact of housing developments proposed and already approved. Regrettably, he failed to push the point.

Town and county leadership should immediately enact a moratorium on residential development until it understands what its prior decisions, including the Grange, already have wrought.

School Board Vice Chairman Jason Maresh, at his board’s Nov. 8 meeting, called upon town and county officials to “start saying no” to developers “unless we know for a fact that we’re going to grow facilities.”