Compost appeal lingers on in North Smithfield: Farm owner hires new counsel for May hearing

Hawes, top right, speaks to zoners via Zoom.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The owner of a 29-acre farm on Buxton Street has hired a new attorney in his appeal of the town’s decision to halt his composting operation, with a hearing now scheduled to be held on Tuesday, May 10.

Michelle Hawes of Desautel Law appeared via Zoom before the North Smithfield Zoning Board on behalf of Frank Jacques last week to request the latest extension in the dispute, which began with a cease and desist order in January 2020. Building Inspector Kerry Anderson issued the order following complaints from neighbors over the smell from Jacques’ property at 300 Buxton St., where, at the time, he was composting food waste from other Rhode Island businesses.

While the order paused the farm’s composting operations, in an appeal, Jacques has asserted the work is a protected agricultural use under the state’s Right to Farm Act. A hearing on the matter, delayed several times, was again put on hold in January after Jacques’ legal counsel, Attorney Michael Kelly, withdrew from representation.

At a Zoning Board meeting on Tuesday March 22, Hawes requested an extension until June.

“I understand that you would like to move this as quickly as possible,” Hawes said. “We’d really like until June if possible.”

“This has been on our agenda for quite some time, so we kind of want to get to it,” replied Zoner Scott Martin.

Zoner Gail Berlinghof was also not inclined to to grant an extension of more than two months.

“It’s gone on quite awhile,” Berlinghof said. “Thirty days, I think, is appropriate.”

“We literally have just been retained by the client in this matter and just received the paperwork that has been underlying the claim yesterday,” Hawes said in response, noting her firm wants to revisit previously discussed options to settle the case. “We really need at least until May.”

Attorney Stephen Angell, who is representing the town in the appeal, also spoke against delaying a hearing to June.

“Mr. Jacques had quite some time to find himself a new lawyer,” Angell said. “I think May is adequate.”

Zoners agreed to a 45 day extension, with a new hearing date set for Tuesday, May 10. Angell noted that the town will send a new notice to abutters and advertise the hearing date at Jacques’ expense.

Hawes said Desautel partner Attorney Kerin Browning will likely represent Jacques at the hearing.

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