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‘Projectiles’ and politics collide in zoning dispute

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — A group of Cranston taxpayers hopes their city can solve noise and debris issues they claim are caused by a politically connected business that’s grown in the middle of their neighborhood.

Odors, mulch dust, machinery noise and what some call “projectiles” are causing a nuisance, according to several neigbors of North-Eastern Tree Service on Pontiac Avenue.

Rob Grazewicz’s Eddy Street backyard abuts a 40-foot high pile of black mulch to the right, a 20-foot stack of logs to the left and a mulch-grinding machine behind a concrete retaining wall to the rear of his property.

“I was here before they started grinding mulch,” Grazewicz said. “There were fruit trees back there then.”

Grazewicz claims chunks of wood are propelled from the grinder into his yard on a regular basis, and he says some of the projectiles have been metal.

“I guess [the metal] comes from things imbedded in the trees,” Grazewicz said. The projectiles “are shot straight up into the air and you don’t see it when they’re coming down because you are not paying attention.”

His next-door neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said one chunk punched a hole in her siding.

City records show North-Eastern Tree is located on just over an acre of land, but over the years company owner Michael Sepe has bought a dozen pieces of property – mostly homes – that now surround the business for a total of about six acres.

Sepe purchased one of the homes in 2002 from state Sen. Hanna Gallo, a Cranston Democrat who was also one of the sponsors of a 2013 law that some claim was passed to protect Sepe’s livlihood. (Gallo has argued the transaction happened long before the legislation, and that Sepe made the best offer.)

The law set the minimum for mulch manufacturing at five acres and shielded “arborists” from being considered a nuisance to neighbors for noise, debris, odors and pesticides.

Cranston Democrat Charlene Lima, the House sponsor of the measure, insists the law was not passed just for Sepe. But all but one of the seven House and Senate sponsors are Cranston politicians, with records indicating six of the seven, including Lima and Gallo, have received campaign contributions from Sepe.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung has received more than $18,000 in contributions from Sepe and his family members since 2008.

“Very frustrating,” Grazewicz said. “If the law was created by my lawmakers why wasn’t I notified?”

Neighbors argue neither the law nor zoning ordinances should protect Sepe, who they claim is using residential land for industrial purposes.

Grazewicz said the piles of mulch to his right are located on what were backyards of homes that Sepe bought.

The logs to his left stand on what he claims was a driveway of another home that belongs to an unused mailbox near North-Eastern Tree’s fence.

“As many complaints as have been made by either myself or the neighbors, nothing can be done,” Grazewicz said.

Fung’s director of administration Dan Parrillo said he will release the findings of his neighborhood site visit at a Cranston City Council Public Works Committee hearing scheduled for Thursday evening.

Sepe, whose ties to goverment also include $1.5 million in DEM contracts since 2014, has not responded to recent requests for comment. In a brief phone interview with Target 12 two weeks ago, he said he didn’t think there was a zoning issue.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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