NORTH SMITHFIELD – A proposed amendment to the town’s noise ordinance that would make it illegal to operate motorized off-road vehicles within 300 feet of homes brought out several opponents at a Town Council meeting this week. And while officials did not vote on the issue, a hearing on the proposed changed will be scheduled for Monday, Nov. 1.
“I have been riding dirt bikes, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles my entire life,” said resident David Mitchell. “Some of the stuff going on is between two neighbors, which are penalizing everyone else who rides an ATV.”
The initiative to amend the town’s noise ordinance began earlier this month after resident Paul Soares told councilors that his neighbor’s ATV riding was ruining his quality of life. Soares described an “ATV rodeo,” on Sayles Hill Road, with kids allegedly riding around his house revving their engines.
Soares proposed a change to the town’s current noise ordinance that would target the off-road vehicles, with exceptions made for routine activities such as yard work and farming.
But a petition opposing the amendment on Change.org has garnered more than 550 signatures. Resident Sarah Fournier, who started the signature drive, told councilors this week that 202 of the signers live in North Smithfield.
And she gave a very different account of the dispute on Sayles Hill Road.
“I am a direct neighbor to the person who is a disturbance in the town,” Fournier said. “The child that is riding the ATV does so in reasonable hours, stays on his own property. I don’t feel we need to increase the noise ordinance for this purpose.”
Soares, a longtime volunteer in town who has served on several boards and commissions, had said he tried to speak to the offending neighbor, but was yelled at and insulted.
That neighbor, Todd Caisse, admitted Monday that he did yell, but it was because Soares had taken photos and videos of his son, a minor, riding the ATV on his own property, a 58,295-square-foot lot purchased this year.
“I had a real problem with that,” Caisse said. “That’s why I cursed at him.”
“There’s a bunch of things that were misrepresented in his presentation,” Caisse said of Soares. “I think this amendment is going to be wrong. I really want you to think about the implications of this long term, not just short term.”
Lauren Caisse, the mother of the boy in question and an attorney who lives in Massachusetts, said she also took issue with the photos and video. And she defended her son’s use of the recreational vehicle.
“I looked at police reports and the only person who has complained is Paul Soares,” she said.
Soares was not present at Monday’s meeting, but his wife, Sandra Soares, told councilors he had deleted all pictures and video after police said it was illegal.
Others this week rejected the idea of targeting ATV riders for any reason.
“My neighbor can run a leaf blower at 7 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday,” said resident Kevin Blais.
Mitchell pointed out that activities such as ATV riding can help to keep kids busy and out of trouble.
“You’re letting one situation dictate a whole new ordinance,” Mitchell said. “Why don’t we find a place where they can ride their ATV legally? There are plenty of places out in Maine, where I go. You’ve got to let the kids be kids. You’re going to affect a lot of people.”
Town Council President John Beauregard told those in attendance that he has yet to decide how he’ll vote on the issue.
“It’s not a done deal, by any means,” Beauregard said. “This is the first reading. It doesn’t mean that it can’t change, and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to pass.”
“I’ve been going back and forth on this for several weeks now,” Beauregard added, noting that on the night the amendment was first discussed he, “was upset on Mr. Soares’s behalf,” and would have passed it as a, “knee-jerk reaction,” – and it would have been a mistake.
“You should not vote on any law as an emotional reaction,” the council president said. “Laws should be given a lot more consideration, time and debate. When I make a decision, it will be an educated decision, not an emotional reaction.”
A public hearing on the ordinance is expected to be held at the board’s first meeting in November.
“We want to hear what everybody has to say before we make a decision,” Beauregard said.