NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Conservation Commission last week received positive feedback from Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski and Town Council President John Beauregard on proposed new rules related to deer hunting within municipal limits.
The commission, at its Sept. 14 meeting, also discussed ongoing issues related to the controversial application of Tech Realty LLC to build a 23,700-square-foot commercial building on Central Street, which drew a number of residents to speak out in opposition last week.
In April, commission member Kayla Masse proposed a list of ethical guidelines the commission may consider when putting together hunting regulations on town land. The commission is seeking an understanding and relationship with those who would be hunting on town property.
Zwolenski said he looked at proposed regulations from the Conservation Commission on hunting, and though there are specific aspects the commission still has to look into when it comes to locations and size of animals allowed to be hunted, he is in support of their hunting rules for Cedar Swamp and the Souza property.
“I looked at it, and we discussed this many moons ago. Personally I support this, we know how it’s important to keep the (deer) herd at a healthy level,” said Zwolenski. He jokingly added that recently a herd of deer have been in his yard eating his wife’s plants.
The commission discussed a number of concerns related to how people hunt.
“There are going to be signs, it’s pretty much a warning that they need to wear their orange when you walk the trails,” said Masse. She added that if residents are not wearing orange in specific areas that are designated as hunting spots during specific time periods, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management can issue a citation.
“We would also consider the herd population and not take any of the babies,” said Masse.
Chairperson Jonathan Depault echoed her statement, saying the committee would take applications from residents who want to hunt and forward them to the council. Under proposed language, applicants would have to volunteer on the Conservation Commission and get to know the members before they would be approved and then be moved forward to the council. Masse added this would be so they wouldn’t be putting any “Joe Shmoe” in the woods to hunt.
“You’re going to get pushback,” said Zwolenski. He added that residents will question the rules that the Conservation Commission has put forward even though those rules have his support, despite him playing devil’s advocate.
“Part of conservation is giving back, it’s not just taking,” said Masse. Zwolenski added that they would have to look at property lines when it comes to the Souza property, as it goes into Woonsocket.
Commissioners said they have at times struggled without existing bylaws and organizational structure. Zwolenski questioned that, saying they had already gone over this before in front of the council. Commission members said Town Solicitor David Igliozzi was supposed to review proposed bylaws, but never got back to them.
Commission member Steven Berenback said he felt the group was getting “stonewalled” in not hearing back on the bylaws. He referenced a 2019 mass resignation in saying they had already faced stressful situations when they had no idea what their core responsibilities were.
Beauregard told the commission that he would call Igliozzi the next day.
On the Central Street building proposal, Depault said members initially had no problems with it, but that was before they knew of any variances that the company would have to seek in order to get the OK. He reminded the crowd of project opponents in attendance that he and other members can only give a recommendation, but they have no authority.
“What’s really nice is having well water is not having to pay for it,” said resident Gail Burlinghoff, member of the Zoning Board of Review. She added that the town has the biggest aquifer in the state, and the current planning director is from a different town that wants to change all the zoning laws. She also added that the proposed industrial building, already recommended by the Planning Board and now up for consideration of variances by the Zoning Board, would be located on top of the aquifer which is protected by specific zoning laws.
“I do not recommend anything of that size to go on that piece of property with those beautiful wetlands,” she said.
Resident Christian de Rezendes added that besides the fact that his mother lives across the street and there is a visual component to worry about, the materials in the warehouse that the company would be working with are hazardous and have a potential to contaminate the water.
“MST (Material Sample Technologies) wants to build a huge warehouse surrounded on three sides by wetlands to store metals in a residential neighborhood with families with young children in houses that have wells,” he said. “MST is requesting several variances to be granted to them by the town’s Zoning Board in order to allow this monster warehouse to be constructed. This is not acceptable.”
Liane Galette, also a resident of North Smithfield, said she believes the project would make an existing rat problem when it floods worse.
“I’m ready to move,” she said.
Her husband, Robert, added that the commission has a responsibility to protect the resources of the town. Commissioners approved a motion to visit the site with the town planner and zoning official before the next zoning meeting on Sept. 27.
Also on Sept. 14, the commission discussed planting more trees in front of the high school and their goal to see electric charging stations installed throughout town.