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PUBLISHED ONLINE JUNE 9, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 23

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
 


Here's the site plan for Woodleaf, the envisioned residential subdivision along Mallard Road off Brogden Road (shown along the left side of the rendering).
 
Council OKs 2,005 new homes east of I-95

After a couple of last-minute changes, the Smithfield Town Council voted without dissent Tuesday night to rezone 491 acres along Mallard Road east of town for a proposed residential subdivision with 2,005 dwelling places: 490 single-family houses, 691 townhouses, and 1,054 apartments.

Speaking for NRP Ventures LLC of Chapel Hill, Molly Stewart said Woodleaf's developers hope to create "a village feel" while providing "badly needed housing" that could attract more employers to locate here.

Although the huge subdivision would be "currently inconsistent" with the town's Comprehensive Land-Use Plan, Planning Director Stephen Wensman told the council the development would be "compatible with surrounding properties" and thereby wins endorsement from his staff and the town's Planning Board.

Mr. Wensman said Woodleaf's developers intend to ask for voluntary annexation to town (the site already lies within Smithfield's extraterritorial jurisdiction.) He said both the town's police and fire departments would likely need substations in the area once the subdivision is finished and fully occupied.

Following his presentation and a public hearing that drew no opposition, the council voted 3-3 on the rezoning request – a tie vote that meant disapproval. But after a short recess and a motion by Councilman Travis Scott to reduce from 500 to 400 feet the maximum distance allowed between overflow parking lots and dwelling units and to extend building setbacks from 25 to 30 feet of street rights-of-way, the council approved the project 6-0 under conditional zoning that comes with a multitude of requirements including standards for building materials and landscaping as well as sidewalks and open space.

Councilman Scott along with Marlon Lee and Steve Rabil initially voted against approval, while Roger Wood and Sloan Stevens along with Mayor Pro Tem John Dunn voted yes. Councilman David Barbour and Mayor Andy Moore were absent.



Town pays off remaining loans on the SRAC

As a fund-raising campaign faltered during the recession of 2007-08, the Town of Smithfield took out loans of $4.5 million and $3 million from First Citizens Bank to finish financing for the Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) built as a joint project of the town and Johnson County Public Schools. The SRAC opened in 2009.

After the Town Council asked last month for money to be added to the proposed 2022-23 budget to make employee salaries more competitive, Town Manager Mike Scott proposed paying off those SRAC loans from the town's healthy General Fund balance to free up $441,612 required for interest and principal payments on those loans in the year ahead.

With that and other tweaks to his proposed budget, Mr. Scott has come up with an additional $680,000 the council may use for salary adjustments when the new budget is finalized later this month.

The council ratified the SRAC loan payoffs during its regular monthly session Tuesday night. The total amount due is $2,284,875.75. The original maturity dates for the 20-year loans were November 2027 and January 2028, which means the town is saving well over $400,000 in annual debt-service expense over the next six fiscal years.

The payoffs will reduce the town's General Fund balance at the end of fiscal 2021-22 from $11,248,279 last June 30 to a projected $8,963,403 at the end of this month. At 55% of this year's General Fund budget, that's well above what's recommended by the N.C. Local Government Commission.


68-unit townhouse project in West Smithfield moves ahead
The council granted preliminary subdivision approval to Whitley Townes, a 68-unit townhouse project on the northeast side of West Market Street beside the abandoned Heilig-Meyers and K-mart complex.

Councilman Scott voiced concern about the unkempt condition of the parking lot and vacant store buildings. Planning Director Wensman said a new owner has plans to remake the property for new commercial purposes in the near future, and a spokesman for the developer stood up to confirm that.


42 acres at Barbour Road & 70 Business rezoned for industry
Planning Director Wensman said there's no immediate plan for development of the site, which is across US 70 Business from Johnston Regional Airport and not far from the site of the Amazon distribution center that's nearing completion.

Former Legion Hut by the river under study for renovations
The council awarded a contract to Mauer Architecture of Raleigh to undertake a renovation study for what was originally built in the 1930s to house American Legion Post 132, which later relocated to newer quarters. The present owner is the Town of Smithfield, which leases "The Hut" to the Neuse Little Theatre. The town's Parks and Recreation Department requested the study at a cost not to exceed $25,000.

48 smoke detectors installed in 24 homes last weekend
Town Manager Mike Scott reported to the council that the Smithfield Fire Department installed 48 smoke alarms in 24 residences during "Smoke Alarm Saturday" last weekend and also identified and "made safe" several electrical outlet problems, all done free of charge.

Next budget session scheduled for the last week of June
The council recessed Tuesday's meeting until 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 27 to continue working on the town's 2022-23 budget, which must be adopted by the start of the new fiscal year July 1. VIEW details of the proposed budget as it now stands>
 



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Do Good Foods will occupy this building nearing completion in the Eastfield industrial park between Selma and Pine Level (Do Good Foods website photo).

Incentives lure 90+ higher-paying jobs to Selma

During a joint session Monday afternoon, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and the Selma Town Council approved property-tax rebates for a company that plans to produce animal feeds from surplus grocery-store food at a plant in Selma's Eastfield Crossing industrial park under development east of I-95.

To qualify for the rebates, Do Good Foods LLC must invest at least $38.5 million in the new facility and employ at least 90 employees an average salary of $63,500 under terms of an agreement adopted by both governing bodies and the company.

The rebates will amount to 50% of both county and municipal taxes assessed on "business personal property" over a period of seven years once the facility is in operation. After that, the company will pay property taxes in full without rebates. Learn more about the company on the Do Good Foods website>



Commissioners get extra budget requests totaling $1.17 million

During Monday's public hearing on the proposed County of Johnston budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1, commissioners heard funding requests from several organizations operating outside the purview of County Government.

The Triangle Land Conservancy seeks $625,000 for six unnamed projects encompassing "at least 600 acres," said Leigh Ann Hammerbacher, director of land protection and stewardship. She said more than 1,800 acres along the Neuse and Little rivers were protected from development this past year, bringing total Johnston County acreage conserved by TLC "close to 5,000" since the non-profit's establishment almost 40 years ago.

"We will match all county funding on at least a one-to-one ratio," Ms. Hammerbacher promised commissioners.

The Town of Princeton wants $250,000 from the county for a $2-million project to replace its "antiquated" community building, Mayor Don Rains told commissioners. Besides providing more space for gatherings, the proposed 6,235-square-foot structure would house the Princeton Public Library, which currently occupies a small space inside Princeton High School that's not open to the public outside normal school hours, the mayor pointed out.

The town got a major boost when last year's N.C. General Assembly approved a $500,000 grant for the project, Mr. Rains noted. Another $108,000 in donations has been raised, he added.

Neal Davis, executive director of Community and Senior Services, asked commissioners for an additional $175,000 beyond its normal budget request to set up a "micro-transit" pilot program for J-CATS (Johnston County Area Transit System). He said it would operate much like the ubiquitous Uber taxi service and enable persons lacking access to personal transportation to schedule rides to jobs, schooling, grocery stores, medical clinics, and other needs.

A test run of six to eight months would likely be centered in the Smithfield-Selma area and later expanded throughout the county with potential federal aid, Mr. Davis told commissioners. Part of the $175,000 would be required for software necessary to set up the scheduling system, he noted.

Two other funding requests heard Monday:

ReEntry seeks at least $100,000 in the year ahead to continue a state-mandated service to convicted criminals completing their prison sentences and in need of assistance in their return to civilian life. Retired Judge Addie Rawls made the plea for county aid, citing the state's unwillingness to fund the program.

• The Johnston County Youth Advisory Council wants $20,000 to launch a "full mentoring program" for "very late-stage high-school students" who need one-on-one help in preparing for their futures, said council member Taylor Kirks of Johnston County Industries Inc. The council completed a pilot project at Smithfield-Selma High School this spring, Mr. Kirks said.

The County Commissioners have scheduled sessions at 6 p.m. next Monday and the following Monday, June 20 to finalize numbers in the budget proposed by County Manager Rick Hester. VIEW details of his proposal on the county's website>


Commissioner Smith voices opposition to commuter rail
During GoTriangle's update Monday on the project's feasibility study that's still in the making, Commissioner Fred Smith said he doesn't believe Johnston County has sufficient population density to support commuter-rail service extending from Durham to Clayton. "We don't need any trains," he declared. "It is not a feasible, realistic use of our taxpayer funds in Johnston County at this time."

Charles Lattuca, CEO of GoTriangle – the region's provider of commuter bus service in Wake, Durham, and Orange counties – told commissioners the study projects 12,000 train riders per day by 2040 along the 43-mile corridor that would bring service within one mile of 27% of the region's "affordable housing." He said the study also projects a gain of 750,000 additional residents driving 700,000 additional motor vehicles across the region between now and 2040.

Commissioner Smith said he's not sold on commuter rail because "there is no model" for its success anywhere in the region, citing GoTriangle's failure to launch a proposed "light rail" project in Durham and Orange counties several years ago.

Despite his opposition, commissioners have not made a decision on whether the County of Johnston will buy into construction of whatever commuter-rail scenario is eventually recommended. So far, about $9 million has been spent on the feasibility study, Mr. Lattuca noted. Johnston County has contributed $326,000 to date.
VIEW Monday's GoTriangle report to the board (as a PDF file)>


County to help pay for another synthetic field at Clayton High
Commissioners agreed to appropriate $150,000 to pay the balance Principal Bennett Jones said is needed for installation of a second artificial-turf field at his school. But they added a condition that out-of-town users of all the school's athletic facilities will pay the same fees as Town of Clayton residents.

The town and the Johnston County Board of Education each put up $500,000 last year to pay for synthetic turf at Clayton High's football and soccer fields so they can be used for a variety of community-based sports beyond scheduled school activities. Principal Jones said a $250,000 grant from the National Football League supplemented those funds to get the football field replaced but there wasn't enough left over to remake the soccer field.

The county's $150,000 grant approved Monday is contingent upon the Clayton Town Council's approval of a new user-fee schedule that applies equally to all of Johnston County's residents and organizations.

Commissioner Smith, who made the motion to approve the county's grant, said he hopes the partnership between the school system and the town will become "a model to make better use of our school facilities."


Appointments settled by ballots submitted between sessions
As they've done whenever the number of applicants exceeds positions available, commissioners voted by written ballots following their morning session to make the following appointments (the results were announced at Monday's evening session):
Economic Development Advisory Board – attorney Adam Caldwell of Cleveland Township was newly appointed (three persons had applied for the position).
Voluntary Agricultural District Advisory Board – J. Shepard Barbour Jr. of Pleasant Grove Township and Betty O. Woodall of Smithfield Township were reappointed while Jonathan Hardee of Elevation Township was newly appointed (four persons had applied).


Rezoning for cell tower denied; convenience store on 42 approved
Commissioners settled four land-use rezoning cases at Monday's evening session:
• By a vote of 6-0, they denied a request for rezoning that would have allowed a cellular phone tower beside Smith Road in Cleveland Township. A delegation of neighbors from a nearby subdivision objected to the proposed tower location. (Commissioner April Stephens was recused from voting because of a potential conflict of interest).
• By a vote of 6-1 (with Commissioner Ted Godwin dissenting), the board approved rezoning to allow a new convenience store at the intersection of highways 39 and 42 in O'Neals Township. Neighbors voiced concerns about traffic and crime.
• The board unanimously approved Community Business zoning for a small tract in the 14900 block of NC 210 in Pleasant Grove Township.
• Also unanimously approved was General Business zoning for 35 acres at the intersection of highways 42 and 50 in Cleveland Township.

 




Smithfield native is England's "cheese rolling champ"

Abby Lampe, who grew up in Smithfield, celebrated her recent graduation from N.C. State University by traveling to England, entering the 2022 Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake near Gloucester, and winning the women's competition! She's the daughter of former Smithfield Mayor John Lampe and his wife Nancy. Abby is a great-granddaughter of the late J. Harold Lampe, the longest serving dean of NCSU's School of Engineering. Thanks to Weekly Sun reader June Lioret, a former N.C. State employee, for sending us the link to the story and photo published by NCSU News. READ IT HERE>
 



Hospital receives yet another change in name

It opened as Johnston Memorial Hospital in 1951, then took on a new name – Johnston Health – following the County of Johnston's decision to join a partnership with UNC Health in 2014. Now, as part of UNC Health's "new brand identity," the Smithfield hospital along with a newer facility in Clayton is getting a new name:
UNC Health Johnston.

The new name along with a new logo "reinforces UNC Health's evolution into a statewide health system with a mission of serving all North Carolinians with expertise and emphathy," reads the announcement from UNC Health. "The transformational efforts, called ONE UNC Health, include new system values alongside a unified strategy, unified operating model, and a unified culture."

Johnston Memorial Hospital was built by the County of Johnston and operated for 63 years under supervision of a Board of Trustees appointed by the County Commissioners. Under the partnership with UNC Health, today's governing board includes representatives of the county as well as UNC Health's administration.

In January 2021, the partnership evolved into a joint operating agreement between Johnston's hospitals and UNC REX of Raleigh, also part of the UNC Health system.

 




WHAT'S COMING UP?

Movies in the Park showing "Goonies" this Saturday

It's the second in a monthly series open to the public free of admission charge at Smithfield Community Park. Saturday's showing of "The Goonies" starts at 8:30 p.m. Chic-fil-A, an event sponsor, will have chicken sandwiches available for purchase, yet "you're welcome to bring your own picnic items," advises the town's Parks and Recreation Department, which is hosting the series.

School board's monthly session scheduled for Tuesday

The meeting begins with a closed session at 4 p.m. immediately followed by the regular open session in the Evander S. Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield. VIEW the complete agenda once it's posted online>
 

Town Council makes Juneteenth an official celebration

Recognizing the historical fact that African Americans in Texas and other Southwestern states didn't get the news until June 19, 1865 that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free, the Smithfield Town Council this week proclaimed Sunday, June 19 as the day for this year's celebration of Juneteenth, which has evolved into a nationwide commemoration. Details of Smithfield's upcoming celebration – on Saturday the 18th – are shown in the poster below:


 



DEATHS & FUNERALS

Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

AUDREY STEPHENSON HOLT, 94 – died June 8

WALLACE BERRY WARREN, 91 – died June 5


EDWARD MILTON DAVIS SR., 86 – died June 4
 



A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

Too many cracked streets; too few dollars to fix 'em

When the Town of Smithfield asked companies for bids on this spring's list of streets in need of resurfacing, none of the proposals came close to staying within the $194,000 budgeted for the work. In fact, only one project fell within the budget: a half-mile "milling down" and resurfacing of pothole-prone Outlet Center Drive.

Sections of eight other streets scheduled for resurfacing would have to wait.

That didn't sit well with Councilman Travis Scott. "We need to look at this a little deeper," he said, offering a motion to table the matter until an upcoming budget session. The rest of the council agreed.

This isn't a new problem. The state's yearly allocation of Powell Bill funds for street work in Smithfield and everywhere else has been stagnant while paving costs have risen – a situation made worse by the current bout of inflation affecting just about everything in the worldwide marketplace.

So which streets take priority for repaving just now? The answer is there are far more than eight or nine of Smithfield's roadways in dire need of resurfacing. Could the town not dip deeper into its General Fund reserves to get more done? Or is it time for a street-repair bond issue to put this problem behind us?

 



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