Editorial – Tip of the hat  to IW planners 

Published 1:10 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Smithfield Planning Commission should take a cue from its companion body in Isle of Wight County and begin to take seriously the rapid growth that threatens to turn Smithfield and surrounding area into just another suburb instead of the quaint, historic, rural community we love.

The Isle of Wight Planning Commission is urging county supervisors to reject the 615-home Sweetgrass development proposed for the 250-acre Yeoman Farm by the Sherwin Williams store just outside the Smithfield town limits on Benns Church Boulevard.

As our Stephen Faleski reported in last week’s edition, the commissioners voted 6-2 on Dec. 12 to recommend that county supervisors deny Ryan Homes parent NVR’s rezoning application to construct homes and townhouses.

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The vote followed a presentation by Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, who warned that the influx of new students from Sweetgrass and other in-progress housing developments would strain existing capacity in public schools and put taxpayers on the hook for expensive construction.

The Smithfield Planning Commission, which has approved two ill-advised large housing developments in the past three years, appears to be on the verge of blessing at least two more, with none of the due diligence such as that being done by the Isle of Wight Planning Commission, which wisely invited Briggs to address the board before casting its vote on Sweetgrass.

We especially commend county Planning Commissioner Jennifer Boykin, who in October urged fellow commissioners to look at the collective impact of all housing developments rather than Sweetgrass alone. She made the motion to recommend denial of the Sweetgrass application. Kudos to Commissioners Cynthia Taylor, Bobby Bowser, Thomas Distefano, George Rawls and Rick Sienkiewicz for voting in favor of Boykin’s motion.

A study Ohio-based Cooperative Strategies completed for IWCS this spring projected more than 1,000 new students would enter the school system upon the buildout of 13 planned housing developments in the county’s northern end. On Dec. 5, the 267-home Grange at 10Main development slated for the western edge of Smithfield’s historic district became the 11th to receive rezoning approval. Five, including a 240-unit apartment phase at the 776-home Benn’s Grant community 2 miles outside Smithfield’s town limits, are already under construction.

IWCS had just under 5,600 students enrolled as of Oct. 31, two-thirds of whom are concentrated in the northern end.

County supervisors should quickly ratify the Planning Commission’s recommendation. 

Virginia’s seventh fastest-growing county frankly doesn’t need to keep approving developers’ applications left and right. The notion that Smithfield and Isle of Wight will die if they don’t is absurd. It’s time to get highly selective about new housing and start practicing the “managed growth” that politicians talk about but never adopt the policies to achieve.