NORTH SMITHFIELD – A proposal to amend the town’s noise ordinance that would have made it illegal to operate ATVs and other recreational vehicles within 300 feet of residential homes failed to gain support of councilors this week, after residents crowded into a public hearing to express their opposition.
The idea, first brought forth by resident Paul Soares, was silently rejected after nearly 20 people spoke against the change at a council meeting Monday, Nov. 1.
“I think this is a neighbor issue,” said resident Joey Savini. “It’s not a town issue.”
Savini was just one of many to speak in defense of the hobby at a standing-room-only gathering, which saw generations of some families testify in favor of the freedom to ride on their property.
“We’ve ridden dirt bikes all our lives,” said Greg Johnson. “Even my 85-year-old father rides one to go get the mail.”
“This is the woods as far as I’m concerned, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Johnson added of the town.
Discussion of the proposal began in early October after Soares told councilors that his new neighbor’s son was constantly riding an ATV around his home and ultimately destroying his quality of life. He said attempts to speak with the neighbor about the problem and to get the police involved had failed.
Neighbor Todd Caisse told councilors a different story two weeks later, and the back and forth dispute continued on Monday over what had transpired, with Council President John Beauregard struggling to maintain order at the crowded hearing.
“It’s a very narrow lane that we’re in,” Beauregard said at the start of the discussion. “We’re going to discuss the merits of the ordinance.”
James Carey told the board he moved to North Smithfield from Woonsocket to be in a rural area.
“These two people should have just ironed out their differences,” Carey said of the proposal. “It’s not fair to anybody who owns an ATV.”
Resident Michael Rapko expressed similar concerns.
“We moved to North Smithfield to enjoy the outdoors,” Rapko said. “It doesn’t make any sense what’s going on. Let the council focus on something that’s more important.”
Paul Soares’s wife Sandy Soares said she’s not opposed to recreational vehicles and sometimes rides one herself.
“I am not against people using their property the way they want to,” she said. “But I do think we have responsibility to respect each other.”
Paul told the crowd of enthusiasts that the ordinance wouldn’t affect them unless neighbors complained.
“The purpose of this proposal was to correct bad behavior,” he said, noting that the amendment would include an exception for routine yard work. “I’m sure there are a lot of ATV riders that are respectful. If you drive around your property in a respectful manner why would anyone complain?”
Opponents were not swayed by the reassurance.
“I understand the problem, but that’s a matter of respect,” said Tom McGee. “I know it’s a tough world these days. Nobody has respect for anyone. If you’re not going to get along, this law is not going to change it anyway.”
McGee said that while the yard work provision was fine, “some people like to ride at 50 miles-per-hour through the woods. I’m one of them.”
“You’ve got to stand up for your rights. Enough is enough,” McGee added. “Stop the government. Let’s live our lives and respect each other.”
Richard Savaria pointed out that if the change passed, he’d be breaking the law while riding on his own property.
Others pointed to other noisy items that aren’t considered a nuisance, such as lawn mowers, Harley Davidsons, pressure washers and leaf blowers.
Both Beauregard and Council Vice President Kimberly Alves pointed out that the Soares family has a long history of volunteerism with the town, and should not be viewed negatively for proposing the idea.
“He is a pillar of this community and I think he’s being painted in a kind of negative light, and that’s not fair,” Beauregard said. “This is an issue they feel strongly about. They’re not trying to interfere with your rights. They just feel they’re being aggrieved.”
When Beauregard asked if anyone on the council wanted to make a motion in support of the amendment, the room, for once, went silent.
The amendment to change the town’s code of ordinances died from unanimous lack of support.