Duckler: Will there finally be a meeting of the minds in Pembroke?

  • Ammy Heiser, chair of the Pembroke Conservation Committee, along with Brian Mrazik stand on Flagg Robinson Road in Pembroke, an entry point for development that the pair are trying to keep in conservation. Monitor file

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/17/2019 4:31:02 PM

Carolyn Cronin, Pembroke’s town planner, is glad she’s on the sidelines, waiting and watching while the select board tries to absorb massive amounts of information and choose what’s best for the town.

Reclassify a pair of range roads in town? Add nearly 50 new homes?

It’s been two years of research and meetings, meetings and research, and two things are clear: One, the people who live in the Fourth Range and Flagg Robinson Road areas don’t want the youthful-looking builder from New Ipswich breaking ground and disrupting their lifestyles, which include the use of rural roads for horseback riding, hiking and dog walking, and an appreciation for a quiet, wooded area.

And two, the select board – representing the initial obstacle facing developer Kenny Lehtonen – has been saddled with the job of digesting the sometimes contentious dialogue at town meetings and the mountains of material it has received.

In fact, with the next meeting scheduled for Monday night at 6:30 at the town hall, and a recently delivered packet of information – a study on the fiscal and environmental effects this new neighborhood would have on Pembroke – the five-member board will be studying this weekend like college students cramming for exams.

“I’m not involved with the selectmen, so I’m not familiar with the past discussions,” Cronin told me by phone this week. “I know that the selectmen have been getting counsel from the attorneys because it’s a difficult question. They have to review the information and listen to comments from the public.”

Those comments have been coming continuously from the range road areas of Pembroke, as residents there continue to view Lehtonen’s plan with caution, skepticism and fear.

If passed, it means reclassifying the roads from Class VI to V, and that would switch the responsibility for the upkeep of these narrow, rural stretches from the private sector to the town. Residents worry about the added flow of kids, buses, cars, noise and construction, robbing Pembroke of an area long considered a peaceful getaway and recreational Garden of Eden.

“The applicant (Lehtonen) is aware that people are opposed to it for various reasons,” Dave Jodoin, Pembroke’s town administrator, told me. “The board will have to review the process and they’ll have to take their time with this latest report that just came in. The public will have questions and they will want answers.”

Jodoin said the select board might vote Monday night, potentially moving the process to the Planning Board and its next scheduled meeting on Aug. 27.

At the center of this debate is Lehtonen, whose father founded San-Ken Homes Inc. He’s been attending the meetings in Pembroke, portraying a calm professionalism and a youthful, golly-gee smile. He’s hard not to like. Then again, this is an outsider who wants to change roadways and build.

“I am concerned” Ammy Heiser, the chairwoman of the town’s conservation committee, told me last month. “It’s just a matter of time before other developers come to this town and want to open up range roads to development. This is a particularly scenic area, and we’re trying to preserve this scenic part of town.”

She added, “(Lehtonen) came in here when real estate value is high and they assumed they could get this done. But other places don’t have people who have lived there for generations. They don’t have a soul. We still have a soul.”

Gauging what direction board members are leaning toward is impossible to know at this time. As Jodoin told me, “This is a controversial issue, and the board is taking its due diligence and must go with what is the law and what are the regulations.”

Those regulations include a vast array of red-tape issues connected to water run-off, wetlands, dirty water, aquifers, lack of parking and space for ATV recreation.

Those passionate about the debate were given a site tour this summer, the opportunity to see exactly what would happen and where. Minds were not changed.

Lehtonen hopes the recent deluge of paperwork, submitted to the board just this week ahead of Monday night’s meeting, will sure things up. He hired Fougere Planning and Development out of Milford to bolster his arguments.

“It’s an environmental impact assessment,” Cronin said. “It’s a report on the fiscal impact to opening range roads. It’s in the applicant’s best interest to give the town as much information as possible so the selectmen can make an informed decision.”

Board chair Tina Courtemanche was unavailable for comment, but none of the members would have said much, simply because their research and homework isn’t finished.

This latest body of work includes charts and graphics, and was compiled to convince skeptics that it is a good, safe idea.

The decision to pass the baton to the planning board is up to Courtemanche, Mike Crockwell, Ann Bond, Sandy Goulet and Richard Bean.

They’ve been busy lately. For two years, in fact.

Said Cronin, “I do not envy their position.”

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