N.S. zoners to hear case for composting at appeal of cease & decease order for Rhody Gold

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The owner of a farm on Buxton Street ordered to stop accepting dumped materials – including food scraps – from outside sources for production of compost will appeal the decision before the town’s Zoning Board of Review next week.

Buxton Hollow Farm will appear before zoners on Tuesday, July 13 at hearing of the appeal starting at 7 p.m.

At issue is a cease and desist order issued by Building Inspector Kerry Anderson last January, pointing to reported violations of the town’s zoning ordinance at the farm at 300 Buxton St. The order notes a composting operation on the property was being performed by The Compost Plant, a Providence-based company, “outside and apart from the farm.”

Issues at the farm first came to light last year, when neighbors in the quiet residential neighborhood complained of an overwhelming smell, which many believe is exacerbated by the use of outside materials. Buxton Hollow owner Frank Jacques has been producing compost at the 29-acre property since 2005, selling a product created from yard waste and food scraps to local stores and gardeners.

In recent years, he had partnered with The Compost Plant, a company that collects food scraps from restaurants and other businesses around the state, and delivered the waste to places including Buxton Street, where it was turned into Rhody Gold, a compost sold locally.

“The activity is part of a pilot program using a new production method,” noted Anderson’s 2020 order. “Materials, including food scraps, are brought to the farm and mixed into a recipe, or recipes, and then trucked to Chace Farm in Warren, RI to undergo a new method of aeration.”

Anderson asserts that the unique compost manufacturing method is unlike any existing uses, and therefore prohibited in all town zones. The order states that the compost production does not qualify as an accessory use on a farm that grows fruit tree, berries and similar crops, and that Jacques would have to apply for a use variance for the specific activity.

Jacques appealed the cease and desist order last February through an attorney with Handy Law, stating that the allegations and enforcement actions violate Rhode Island’s Right to Farm Act.

The Compost Plant, meanwhile, notified Anderson and Jacques that the company would be ceasing all compost operating activities at Buxton Hollow. 

“The Compost Plant has had no interaction with the town of North Smithfield or Mr. Jacques since that time, and are in no way involved with the current appeals process nor will we be attending the zoning hearing,” noted Co-founder Leo Pollock.

Opponents of the operation note that the owner applied for a special use permit to open a roadside stand in 2004 under the name Jacques Farm, LLC. Zoners approved that permit with the stipulation that retail sales be limited to products grown on site.

“The appealed enforcement is based on the mistaken and harmful allegations that composting is a new and different operation that is not subordinate and incidental to farming, that the compost is not composed entirely of organic material, that the compost is exported from the site and that all requirements for the RI Department of Environmental Management approval have not been met,” the appeal notes.

Exhibits with the document cite a 300-year history of the property as a farm, and states that the composting operation pre-existed the town’s zoning ordinance. The property, it states, was part of a 300-acre parcel granted to Capt. James Buxton, a Revolutionary War hero, for meritorious service to his country.

According to North Smithfield property records, Jacques purchased the roughly 29-acre property from Donald Poblenz in 2002.

“Throughout history farming has always generated a large amount of biodegradables; for millennia, sustainable farming has made compost from organic waste to maintain a healthy soil,” notes the exhibit. “Buxton Hollow Farm’s age-old techniques in sustainability are textbook examples of what can be done to provide a healthy soil and sequester carbon, farming practices to important to the health of our environment.”

The farm, it notes, has attracted the attention of local colleges, and will soon build 16,500-square-foot greenhouse and 4,000 square-foot administration building to serve as a learning center for sustainable agribusiness.

“A system working in conjunction with The Compost Plant, we continue North Smithfield’s rural character of farming by composting for a healthy soil to grow chemical free fruits and vegetables,” the exhibit on farm history states. “We truly love the nostalgic and we hope that we never lose some of the wonderful things of our town’s past, but we must be aware that without these effort to protect our town’s soil, there is no future.”

Filing the appeal stayed further enforcement of Anderson’s cease and desist order, and the hearing has since faced delays, primarily caused by the pandemic. Last April, Zoning Board Chairman Robert Najarian received an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission stating that speaking against the appeal will not violate Rhode Island’s code.

Hearing of the appeal scheduled for Tuesday was advertised last week, and an agenda for the meeting can be found here.

Editor’s note: The above article has been edited from the original version to reflect that The Compost Plant is not involved in the appeal and no longer associated with Buxton Hollow Farm.

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