Sidewalk extension can proceed with or without Luter money, county says

Published 7:21 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Isle of Wight County expects to break ground this summer on a sidewalk extension from the 400 block of Main Street to Westside Elementary, regardless of whether Smithfield’s Town Council votes to accept a $6 million donation from former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III.

The donation, according to Smithfield Mayor Steve Bowman, would fund a brick wall and welcome sign marking the western entrance to the town’s historic district, and brick sidewalks spanning the 500 block of Main Street, in town-owned right-of-way bordering the 57-acre site where Luter’s son, Joseph Luter IV, is developing the 267-home Grange at 10Main subdivision that proposes a restaurant, hotel and retail space. Luter III’s donation is conditioned on the town matching the amount dollar for dollar, moving its farmers market to the Grange, extending brick sidewalks to the site and facilitating parking at the Grange for Main Street Baptist Church.

According to county Transportation Administrator Jamie Oliver, Isle of Wight has submitted its final construction documents to the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration and is awaiting approval to advertise the project for contractor bids. The nearly $1.5 million county-administered project, which is largely funded with federal grant money, is on track to break ground late this summer and complete construction by the end of winter, Oliver said.

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The sidewalk project, which calls for temporary stamped asphalt sidewalks fronting the Grange site, is not dependent on the town funding its proposed brick paver portion, Oliver said.

Bowman, at a June 24 Town Council committees meeting, called for delaying the vote on whether to accept or return the donation, which is already in the town’s bank account, until after the town receives “something specifically in writing” from Luter III that outlines Luter’s terms.

“I expect everything to be laid out to our satisfaction where you can make a cogent discussion, and if it’s not, at that juncture we can go back and ask until it is clarified,” Bowman said, responding to Councilman Jim Collins, who’d asked whether the written terms would include cost estimates for the brick sidewalks and wall.

Town Attorney Bill Riddick has advised the council that there’s no time limit on its making a decision to accept or return Luter III’s money.

The council signed a contract with Luter IV in 2021, deeding him town-owned land at Washington and James streets for a smaller, eight-home development for $225,000, conditioned on the town using the money to fund brick sidewalks at the then-proposed Grange, which the council approved for mixed-use zoning in 2023.

A separate county-administered project that calls for widening Main Street from four lanes to six at its intersection with the Route 10 Bypass isn’t scheduled to begin construction until 2027, according to the recorded minutes of a May 15 meeting attended by Luter IV and six members of his design team, two county representatives, including Oliver, two town officials, and two representatives from Kimley-Horn, the engineering firm designing the county’s project blueprints. Oliver said this too will have no impact on the summer start of the sidewalk project.

According to the minutes, which The Smithfield Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, attendees at the May 15 stakeholder group meeting included Luter IV; Melissa Venable of Land Planning Solutions, which Luter hired to assist with the Grange’s planning and engineering; McPherson Consulting President Karen McPherson, whom Luter hired as a traffic engineer; Bruce Berlin, John Gibson, Tip Brown and Preston Moore, all of Venture Realty Group; Oliver and Isle of Wight Transportation Coordinator Julie Boswell; Smithfield Community Development and Planning Director Tammie Clary; Smithfield Public Works Superintendent Jessie Snead; and Andrew Farthing and Niki Russo of Kimley-Horn.

The county’s sidewalk plans show Main Street’s current four-lane layout at the intersection rather than the six-lane expansion. The portions of the sidewalk that front the Grange site and would be displaced by the road widening will be built from stamped asphalt with “flexible delineators between the sidewalk and the travel lane as an interim condition” until the road widening breaks ground, Oliver said, noting the final curb-and-gutter infrastructure and brick pavers along the portion of the sidewalk fronting the Grange won’t be installed until 2027. All other areas of sidewalk, including a stretch along Great Spring Road that will provide pedestrian access from Quail Street to Main, will be built with permanent curb-and-gutter infrastructure.

“Options for brick pavers in the sections in front of the Grange are being discussed with the Town through the stakeholder coordination process within design of the Intersection project,” Oliver said.

According to the minutes, the first phase of construction at the Grange, including closing off Grace Street’s connection to Main Street to allow for a stormwater pond, will likely begin in August 2025, at which time Grace will be realigned to connect to Main by way of the development’s main access road, dubbed Grange Street.

The stakeholder group, as of May, was debating between two options for widening Main Street. The first calls for two eastbound and two westbound through lanes on Main Street plus dedicated right-turn and left-turn lanes for a total of six, which would narrow to three at the Schoolhouse Museum.

The second shows two right-turn lanes for northbound traffic turning onto Route 10, which would remain four lanes at its widest, and no left turn option from Main onto Route 10 for southbound traffic. The second option would also allow left turns by eastbound traffic on Main Street into a parking lot that would serve a proposed hotel at the Grange, while the first option shows right turns only for access in and out of the parking lot.