NORTH SMITHFIELD – A dispute over a former compost facility in a residential neighborhood on Buxton Street is once again facing delays as the town negotiates a possible settlement with the owner.
Last Tuesday, Nov. 9, about a dozen neighbors turned out for a Zoning Board hearing on a matter that has dragged on for close to two years. The owner of the facility, Frank Jacques, is appealing a cease-and-desist order that North Smithfield Building and Zoning Official Kerry Anderson issued in January of 2020.
According to Stephen Angell, a lawyer hired to represent Anderson, Jacques’ lawyer, Michael Kelly, has requested a 30-day extension while the two parties negotiate a settlement. The Zoning Board granted the extension on a 5-0 vote.
Though a Nov. 8 letter from Kelly to the town said the two parties “have reached a settlement of this matter,” Angell said during the meeting that information was not correct. As of last Tuesday, he said, the two parties had only begun the process of discussing a possible settlement, and he was drafting talking points for the negotiations.
“Your town has worked very hard to put its case together, and certainly settlements are good things if they don’t cost the town money,” he said.
A hearing on the appeal has already been delayed at least twice. In September, residents arrived to a Zoning Board meeting to discover it was canceled due to a lack of a quorum of members. In July, several residents expressed frustration when board members granted a separate request from Kelly to delay the hearing. Though Anderson told The Breeze at the time the delay was related to difficulties with scheduling witnesses, Angell said last Tuesday the July delay was due to talks about another possible settlement.
“This board may recall that we did this dance back in July for the same reasons, or for a potential settlement,” he said.
Residents last Tuesday were visibly upset about the delay, with several shouting questions despite the board not opening the public hearing. Scott Lentz, a resident of 474 Buxton St., asked Angell to explain the reasons behind the delay.
“We’ve been here multiple times and it’s been extended, so what’s going on?” he said.
Angell said he was first approached in July about a possible settlement, but those negotiations failed to reach one. The most recent request, he said, asked the board to delay the hearing for 30 days, but he did not express confidence the two parties would reach a settlement during that time.
“If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I wouldn’t make that bet,” he said.
Board members initially discussed postponing the hearing until Dec. 28, but later moved it to Jan. 4 after member Paul Pasquariello pointed out the town has traditionally not held meetings during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“If he were to ask for another continuance at that date, what’s the rule on that?” Pasquariello asked.
“It’s really at the pleasure of the board,” Angell said.
Angell recommended the board dismiss the appeal if Jacques or his lawyer fail to appear on Jan. 4.
The hearing concerns a former compost facility that Jacques and a contractor, Nat Harris of The Compost Plant in Providence, operated at 300 Buxton St. The business involved bringing food waste from restaurants around the state to North Smithfield to be transformed into compost. Jacques has repeatedly defended the operation as an agricultural use protected under the state’s Right to Farm Act, while his neighbors have accused it of being an illegal dump that created an overwhelming smell in the neighborhood.
Neighbors who spoke to The Breeze at last week’s hearing continued to express their frustration over what they see as stall tactics. Though the compost farm has not operated since 2020, several neighbors expressed concern over the future use of the property, especially after it was listed for sale earlier this year.
“We’re angry. This is the fourth time (coming) out,” said Norma Bessette.
“This whole thing is a joke as far as I’m concerned,” said Judy Daly, who lives across the street from the property.
Speaking to The Breeze last Friday, Jacques said he and his lawyer have only just begun settlement negotiations with the town. Despite several online listings, Jacques said he has taken the property off the market and does not plan to sell it at this time.
“I put it on the market and I sold off everything because I was totally depressed about what the town has done without ever talking to me,” he said. “They never bothered to try to understand what I did there.”
Jacques declined to answer questions about the future use of the property but said he plans to return it to a raw piece of land for the time being.
“I have had six proposals of things to be done out there. I have decided to do nothing for the time being,” he said.
Angell told The Breeze on Monday that Town Solicitor David Igliozzi has since taken over the discussions on behalf of the town. Igliozzi on Tuesday declined to comment on the status of the negotiations.