SMITHFIELD — Earlier this month, the town secured a $50,000 grant to study infrastructure needs in East Smithfield. Now town leaders want residents to weigh in on the area’s most-pressing problems.
The Raleigh Area Development Authority worked with the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. to secure the federal grant. But the money won’t go directly toward improvements.
Instead, RADA and the town will use the money to hire a consultant to study East Smithfield’s infrastructure needs. After that year-long study, they will begin writing applications for grants to make the actual improvements.
First, they have to decide what the problems are. Over the years, residents have complained of blight and crime, but one problem irritates them more than the rest – flooding.
Chris Johnson, director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., said that’s the issue he hears about most. “That concern keeps popping up,” he said. “Especially with the development around the outlet center, the concern seems to be, real or imagined, they’re going to get more water dumped on them.”
Tony Nixon, chairman of the East Smithfield Improvement Committee, said infrastructure concerns, including drainage, are atop his priority list. Now in his third month as chairman, he’s worried the Smithfield Crossings road project will direct more storm water into the low-lying neighborhood.
“When you take away natural covers – grass and trees and bushes – you’re going to have more runoff,” Nixon said.
Paul Embler, the town’s planning chief, said his department has studied the drainage issue “four ways to Sunday” and is working on solutions. Among other things, Ember said, the town has enlarged the main storm-water pipe running through Pine Acres, which is near Smithfield Crossings.
Much work remains to be done, Embler said, but the town is committed to doing it. “The cost of doing all this stuff is significant,” he said. “The town has been, over the years, incrementally piecing it together.”
Nixon said he has concerns beyond drainage. He’d like to do something about rundown houses. Many of them, he said, are owned by out-of-towners who do little to maintain them. Improvements to Smith-Collins Park remain an ongoing issue for the committee as well, he said.
“We do have to have some place for our teenagers and some type of recreation available to those that don’t drive,” Nixon said. “There’s no public transportation in Smithfield, so they do need a community park.”
Nixon said he wants to make sure the committee’s ambitions are in line with those of broader Smithfield. He sees East Smithfield as a gateway to the rest of the town, its first chance to make an impression on people getting off of Interstate 95.
“We’d think the town would want to put its best foot forward,” he said.
The $50,000 feasibility study could be an important first step, but Nixon knows it will take awhile to make everything come together.
“A $50,000 feasibility study is just a small rock in a big pond,” he said. “But it’s a good place to start.”