Local landowners want the Town Council to rezone nearly 250 acres they say will be the “next commercial growth area” in Smithfield.
In January, the Nell Howell Estate and Roberts and Wellons Inc. asked the town to reclassify two tracts between Booker Dairy Road and U.S. 70 for business and multi-family residential use.
The land abuts an existing shopping center that faces North Bright Leaf Boulevard, and it’s in the path of a proposed Booker Dairy Road extension that could bring needed infrastructure closer to the property.
The $10.4 million road project would widen Booker Dairy Road, which runs between Buffalo Road and North Bright Leaf Boulevard. Also, it would add a branch to Booker Dairy that would run behind two exisitng shopping centers before reaching Bright Leaf farther north than the current intersection.
Last year, Gov. Pat McCrory placed the Booker Dairy Road work on a short list of transportation projects he wants done in rural North Carolina. It’s slated for construction in 2018, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s draft improvement plan.
The Nell Howell Revocable Trust owns the land, but Roberts and Wellons Inc., a corporation registered to Smithfield attorney Allen Wellons, is also listed as an applicant, according to the rezoning request filed with the Town of Smithfield. Nell Howell was the widow of Rudy Howell, a Smithfield businessman who had extensive real estate holdings in Johnston County.
The rezoning application says the community has looked to the property as a future commercial hub since the 1990s.
“From the information we have gathered, there is a planning and growth opinion that this tract of land will be the next commercial growth area in Smithfield,” the request says.
Hope Panara, the daughter of Nell Howell, said the planned Booker Dairy extension and occasional interest from developers prompted the family to ask the town to rezone the land. While the family has no specific plans for the property, the rezoning will help plan for the future, she said.
“I hope that whatever happens there will be positive for the entire community,” Panara said.
As part of a vision study in 1998, the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce identified the land as a potential commercial center and even laid out a conceptual drawing of what the property could look like. Rick Childrey, chamber president, said he shared that drawing with the Howell family last year.
“The idea was that the U.S. 70 corridor was going to be the front door to the Smithfield-Selma area,” Childrey said. “We wanted to be sure that the land was developed well.”
The Smithfield Planning Board heard the request on Feb. 5 and unanimously recommended that the Town Council approve the rezoning.
Town Planner Mark Helmer said the applicants have not yet submitted any site-development plans.
The Town Council is expected consider the request in March.