NORTH SMITHFIELD – ATV riders and proponents in North Smithfield are pushing back against what some have described as an unfair attempt to target all ATV riders as a result of a dispute between two neighbors.
Earlier this month, Paul Soares, a resident of Sayles Hill Road, approached the Town Council with concerns about a neighbor whose son regularly rides an ATV along the property line between the two yards, according to his account. Soares described the situation as an “ATV rodeo” and said he’s called the police on several occasions due to the noise levels.
“I was left with no option but to call the police,” he said.
Soares proposed a change to the town’s ordinances that would make it illegal to operate an ATV within 300 feet of an abutting home.
While the proposed change initially received a positive reaction from town officials, councilors learned last week that not all residents are on board with trying to cut down on ATV use. During a meeting on Monday, Oct. 18, several residents, including the neighbor in question, turned out to oppose the amendment.
Todd Caisse, the neighboring homeowner at 169 Sayles Hill Road, disputed Soares’ version of events and said his son was riding his ATV within the bounds of North Smithfield’s ordinances.
“My son did not do anything wrong. He rode his ATV that he bought on our property at reasonable times of the day,” he said.
Caisse acknowledged he had harsh words for Soares, but said it was only after he saw Soares taking a video of his son riding his ATV that he confronted him. He disputed Soares’ account that Soares tried to talk to him amicably about the situation, saying it was he who approached Soares after he saw him taking the video.
“I screamed at Paul Soares, whatever his last name is, no disrespect intended, for taking videos of my underage son, and I would do it again in a heartbeat because that wasn’t right,” he said.
The boy’s mother, Lauren Caisse, also disputed Soares’ claim that other neighbors also had a problem with the situation, saying she’d looked at the police reports and he was the only one who submitted complaints. An attorney based in Massachusetts, Caisse threatened to file harassment charges if Soares took any more pictures or videos of her son.
In response to a request from The Breeze, North Smithfield Police said they had received four complaints regarding ATVs on the property, all of them originating at Soares’ address at 171 Sayles Hill Road. One of the complaints noted that “dispatch has received multiple calls in the past about the issue as well.”
Soares was not present at the meeting, but his wife, Sandy, responded to neighbors’ comments. She said her husband’s first encounter with Todd Caisse was when Caisse called him a rude name over the issue. She acknowledge her husband took a video of Caisse’s son riding his ATV but said he later deleted it after police told him it was illegal.
Other residents at the meeting also spoke out against the ordinance change, saying it would affect all ATV riders. Sarah Fournier, a neighbor on Sayles Hill Road, submitted an online petition against the ordinance that she said was signed by 202 residents. As of Monday, 561 individuals in total had signed the petition.
“The child who is riding the ATV rides during reasonable hours of the day, stays on his own property, so I don’t feel that we need to increase a noise ordinance for this purpose,” she said.
Kevin Blais, a resident of Greenville Road, pointed out the ordinance only applies to off-road vehicle riders and would not address other types of noise.
“My neighbor can run a leaf blower from 7 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday, which is about the same as what’s happening with an ATV or a dirt bike,” he said.
David Mitchell of Farnum Pike suggested the town find a place where kids can legally ride ATVs.
Council President John Beauregard said the amendment was “not a done deal by any means,” assuring residents he planned to listen to all arguments before making a decision. Beauregard said he came across as “gung ho” in favor of the change when it was first proposed but has since gone back and forth about the issue.
“I’m not saying I’m against it, but I’m just saying I want to hear the public. I want the public’s input on this. Both sides,” he said.
Councilors heard a first reading of the proposed amendment but did not vote last week. They plan to hold a formal public hearing before voting when it returns for a second reading.
Zwolenski told The Breeze this week he understands people’s concerns but would still support an amendment that allows people to enjoy their properties without intrusion from others’ noise.
“Maybe people want to ride a dirt bike in their backyard, but if that irritates their neighbors, they shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.
The proposed amendment would allow exceptions for yard work, farming, law enforcement, medical personnel and loading or unloading an ATV from a trailer.