Citing property rights, council rejects law to protect trees

Citing property rights, council rejects law to protect trees

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A debate that’s been simmering in North Smithfield in recent months once again came to the forefront on Monday over a proposal to craft an ordinance aimed at protecting the town’s trees.

Town Councilor Douglas Osier Jr. proposed the idea, which would create a measure aimed at “tree preservation and protection.” The ordinance would require final approval by the council before going into effect.

The council ended up rejecting the proposal in a narrow vote Monday.

Pointing to similar laws in other towns, Osier said the ordinance would cover trees affected by all types of development and help preserve their positive impacts, including on property values and the environment. The measure, he said, would be different from one recently approved by the council allowing the town to ask solar developers to replant trees elsewhere in town.

“This would be something different that would help ensure that in the long range, we’re protecting the rural character, protecting certain aesthetics of the town that people really find enjoyable,” he said.

Two residents also spoke in favor of the proposal, urging town officials to consider it as a way of countering state incentives for solar development.

The proposal immediately drew criticism from Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, who described it as an overreaction to a 400-acre solar project currently under consideration off Iron Mine Hill Road. Citing private property rights, he said the measure would make it more difficult for landowners to take down trees on their property that pose a hazard during storms, like the strong windstorm earlier this month.

“I am not a fan of these kinds of thing and I will not sit quietly as I hear proposals where people will be restricted from (responding to) a concern about a tree, whether it’s healthy or not, as it relates to their property,” he said. “It is their judgment, they own the property.”

Councilor Teresa Bartomioli also raised the issue of property rights, pointing out the measure could restrict how landowners use their land.

“Private property, whether it be the 400 acres or wherever they may be, that is a cost to the homeowner,” she said.

Osier defended the measure, comparing it to a permit for building a house, but his arguments were unsuccessful in convincing the full council. The measure failed on a 3-2 vote, with Councilor Paul Zwolenski voting in favor of the measure and Councilors Paul Vadenais, Claire O’Hara and Bartomioli voting against.