NORTH SMITHFIELD – Zoning Board member Robert Najarian will not violate the state’s Code of Ethics if he speaks before his own board against an appeal by his neighbor to continue activities at his composting operation, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission ruled this week.

The ruling applies to a property owned by Frank Jacques of Buxton Hollow Farm, a 30-acre lot where yard and food waste has been turned into usable compost since 2005.

Neighbors say that since Jacques expanded the business to include waste brought in from area restaurants, the composting operation has created a stench throughout the area. The town issued a cease-and-desist order in January against the Buxton Street business, following multiple complaints regarding the smell.

Jacques has said he plans to fight the order and contends that his business is protected under the Right to Farm Act, a state law protecting farmers against nuisance complaints by neighbors. Soon, zoners will have to weigh in on an appeal of the citation.

Zoner Najarian, who was appointed to the board in January of 2017, requested an advisory opinion from the Ethics Board, noting he has been among those complaining about an odor in the neighborhood. In the request to see if he qualified for a hardship exception to the Code of Ethics’ prohibition on appearing before one’s own board, the zoner said the business has a direct and negative impact on his and his wife’s quality of life and, potentially, the value of their property.

Najarian noted that he purchased the Buxton Street home more than 13 years ago, and that he’s notified various town officials about the odor since it started October of 2019.

The composting business produces “Rhody Gold,” a product found on the shelves of local retailers including Ace Hardware and Dave’s Market, and while it’s been operating for more than a decade, it seems it was Jacques’ more recent partnership with a Providence-based operation known as The Compost Plant that has raised his neighbor’s ire. That business collects food scraps from restaurants and other businesses across the state and brings piles of the waste to the farm at 300 Buxton St.

A citation by North Smithfield’s inspector said the process violates the town’s zoning ordinance, ordering The Compost Plant to immediately cease dumping waste on the property. It warned that failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $500 per day for the zoning violation and another $100 per day, or prison time.

Najarian sought permission to object to his neighbor’s appeal.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, April 7 the Ethics Commission stated Najarian’s circumstances justify their conflict of interest hardship exemption.

Citing an exemption regarding public forum, commissioners noted that Najarian can speak, but may not use his position in any way to influence other members of the Zoning Board. He must also recuse from participation in the discussions and decision-making regarding his neighbor’s property.

The complete decision can be found here.

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