NORTH SMITHFIELD – A proposed ban on ATV use within 300 feet of neighboring residences failed to gain the support of the Town Council on Monday after a large number of off-road vehicle owners turned out to oppose the measure.
The proposed ban would have prohibited property owners from using their ATVs and other off-road vehicles within 300 feet of an abutting residence. The ban included exceptions for yard work, farming, law enforcement, medical personnel and loading or unloading an ATV from a trailer.
The proposal came about after Paul Soares, a resident and former member of the town Conservation Commission, approached the council last month about a neighbor whose child had been riding an ATV along their shared property line. Soares said he had called North Smithfield Police on several occasions to submit a noise complaint but was told they could not enforce the noise ordinance as currently written.
While several councilors initially expressed interest in the proposed change, Council President John Beauregard later said he wanted to hear the public’s input before voting. Members of the public came out in force during Monday’s meeting, with most of them expressing strong opposition to the proposed ban.
“If this proposed amendment passes, I would no longer be able to ride in my yard except for yard work,” said Harley Mitchell, a Farnum Pike resident who said she’d been riding an ATV since she was a kid.
Many individuals said the disagreement was a personal issue between two neighbors and urged the Town Council not to penalize other ATV riders as a result.
“If there’s any way we can make this happen without chastising the 12,000 other citizens in this town, I would like to see that happen,” said Keith Klockars, an ATV rider and resident of Pound Hill Road.
Thomas McGee, a former town councilor, pointed out there are fewer areas than there used to be where people can ride their ATVs.
“All those spots are gone,” he said. “Let’s just live our lives and try to like one another and get along.”
John Russo said he’s also dealt with the issue of motorized vehicles at a dirt bike track near his home on Pine Court. Russo said he thought 20 feet was too close for people to ride dirt bikes near his back deck, but agreed the 300-foot proposal was too high.
Soares and his wife, Sandy, argued in favor of the amendment, saying they tried to act within the existing ordinance but were told it couldn’t be enforced.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of ATV riders in this room and everywhere that are respectful that don’t purposely try to aggravate their neighbors. The question is, how do you separate them from the good people?” Soares said.
Soares and his neighbor, Todd Caisse, along with their family members, repeated their disputing accounts of the disagreement, which has played out at several Town Council meetings. Soares has accused Caisse of foul language and refusing to speak to him on the issue, while Caisse has raised concerns about a video Soares took as evidence of his 14-year-old son riding his ATV.
Town Councilors on Monday defended Soares’ reputation, with Beauregard describing him as a “pillar of the community.” Councilors Claire O’Hara and Kimberly Alves both expressed hope that the two neighbors would be able to address the issue on their own.
“I would wish that this person or these neighbors can go away to their homes and have respect for each other and ride in the appropriate times and in the appropriate areas, and that way we can get along and move on from this,” Alves said.
None of the councilors moved to approve the ordinance change, and the measure failed for lack of a motion.