In Pembroke, residents try to halt a redevelopment plan

  • Ammy Heiser, chair of the Pembroke Conservation Committee, along with Brian Mrazik are trying to preserve this portion of land off of 4th Range Road in Pembroke from development. The fate of the land will be decided Tuesday on two different fronts. The two met on Saturday, June 22, 2019 to look over the land. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ammy Heiser, chair of the Pembroke Conservation Committee, along with Brian Mrazik are trying to preserve this portion of land off of 4th Range Road in Pembroke from development. The fate of the land will be decided Tuesday on two different fronts. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ammy Heiser, chair of the Pembroke Conservation Committee, along with Brian Mrazik are trying to preserve this portion of land off of 4th Range Road in Pembroke from development. The fate of the land will be decided Tuesday on two different fronts. The two met on Saturday, June 22, 2019 to look over the land. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • 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. The fate of the land will be decided Tuesday on two different fronts. The two met on Saturday, June 22, 2019 to look over the land. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ammy Heiser, chairwoman of the Pembroke Conservation Committee, and Brian Mrazik are trying to preserve a portion of land off of Fourth Range Road in Pembroke from development. The fate of the land will be decided Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/24/2019 4:18:49 PM

The silent majority in Pembroke, if there is one, is living up to its name these days.

No one has come forward to support a plan being considered to build homes on roads that currently display the town’s natural beauty and its spirit of adventure.

So the question must be asked: Does anyone in that region support this proposal? Maybe, but officials say no one aligned with that thinking has made their feelings known publicly.

Not a peep at Saturday’s site tour of the area that might be developed, on Fourth Range and Flagg Robinson roads. Not a word two days later, at an open select board meeting.

Nothing. Those who think this is a terrible idea showed up to both, about 30 at the walk, more at the meeting.

“No one has come in beating a drum and saying, ‘I want this to happen,’ ” said Dave Jodoin, Pembroke’s town administrator.

This appears to be a slam dunk, on the surface, anyway, for those who have spoken out. They’re looking to the select board, tagged with the responsibility of choosing to keep the roads the way they are now and have been since anyone can remember, or bring them under the town control for regular upkeep.

A company called San-Ken Homes Inc. out of New Ipswich bought the land fair and square, but the developers want the board to change road classification from VI to V. That would mean town maintenance, things like widening and paving, and inviting cars to rumble through and into their new neighborhood.

Class VI is the way it’s always been, a category that asks the residents to plow and smooth the dirt paths and care for the area’s open spaces, thus keeping Pembroke’s outdoorsy flavor intact.

As many as 48 homes could be built in this area, and that would mean more traffic and danger to kids walking to school. It means disrupting the quiet rhythm long established for hiking and biking and riding horses and snowmobiling. There are concerns about water runoff, wetlands, about dirty water, aquifers, lack of parking and noise, noise, noise.

“No one wants it,” said Joanne Gelinas-Snow, who owns Gelinas Farm, which is right in the heart of this controversial territory, by phone.

That’s the way it appears, at least for now. Critics were out in full force for the site walk. Jodoin said about 30 people showed, none of whom pushed for a new housing development and all that comes with it.

“This has been going on a long time (in front of) the planning and select boards,” Jodoin said. “It’s a long process to go through to open a range road based on state laws. Selectmen are taking their time and doing their due diligence from a legal standpoint.”

People like Jodoin and select board members were coy with me on the phone. They have to sound neutral, at least for public record. They must put their trust in the select board and keep it there, release a sense of confidence that officials will do what’s right for Pembroke.

“It could well be approved,” Gelinas said. “The board can’t say no just because they don’t want it. The owners have their rights, so the board needs a reason. There are some things that are brought up that the selectmen will consider.”

That includes the convenience of having an alternate way – beyond single-file, rush-hour congested Route 3 – to drive to Concord. That would make commuting easier, provide better access for emergency personnel and hike the town’s tax base.

“A lot of residents don’t want to see this go through for multiple reasons,” Jodoin said. “Even though it increases the tax base, they say there will be a negative impact, more kids in school, and the board has been hearing about road maintenance and road runoff.”

The board listened to a one-sided argument for 50 minutes during last Monday’s open select board meeting. Chairwoman Tina Courtemanche opened the session by narrowing the focus of a complex issue, saying, “We’re going to set some ground rules. Please don’t have any sidebars or conversations in the audience. Our responsibility as selectmen is whether or not the roadways should be opened. That’s the only responsibility we have. Not how many homes go in, not where they go, not the drainage. Just the roads.”

The planning board is responsible for those other issues. The select board must take the pulse of Pembroke to gauge interest, but it also must follow directions laid down by the rules and regulations that some in town are familiar with.

Dick Nolin of Plausawa Hill Road told the board that the town’s official master plan and the ground rules documented by the New Hampshire Municipal Association must be taken into consideration before any vote takes place.

He cited eminent domain, given as a potential reason for approving this plan. “I see no actual eminent domain as a necessity here for opening the road,” Nolin said. “Needless to say, I don’t want the road open.”

Nolin’s thoughts were merely one seed in a growing landscape of discontent.

“I was on the walk on Saturday, and although I’ve lived there for over 10 years, I was surprised to see how much water was still flowing,” said Kurt Gillies, who lives on Fourth Range Road. “It was completely eroded topsoil ... that we walked. The concern that the road was reclassified and paved was that potholes and frost heaves could destroy those roads in a short period of time.”

Brian Mrazik of Pembroke Hill Road, one of the most respected residents in town, has submitted letters to the select and planning boards, citing legal details and potential problems to show that this is a bad idea.

He tacked up a map on an easel at Monday’s meeting and pointed to what he thought was a trouble spot that had nothing to do with conservation. It had to do with safety.

“People are going to get killed here,” Mrazik said. “I’ve never had a car accident in my life and I’ve almost hit two people at that curve myself. Put a car, a truck and a pedestrian on that curve and it ain’t going to happen, so my point is, opening these roads to a potential new subdivision is irresponsible.”

Resident Kim Carter has said in the past that the “residents do not want it, and I think the town is pushing to have it done.”

She stood last Monday and noted that a survey showed an overwhelming majority is pushing hard against this measure.

“The rural character is out the window if this one goes through,” Carter said. “It’s just a stepping stone for all of these range roads, one by one, for developers to come and start developing the land, but the townspeople have spoken in those surveys.”

What about the others? Those who don’t live near these two roads, who see a bigger tax base, lower property taxes, less traffic?

Hello?

That crowd, if it does indeed exist, will have two opportunities to explain why the town should adopt these changes. A planning board meeting will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m., a select board meeting on July 15 at 6:30 p.m., both at town hall.

Ammy Heiser, the chairwoman of the Pembroke Conservation Committee, said last week by phone that she’s worried the board will side with the developers to maintain legal integrity.

But she also said the voices that have spoken up against this far outnumber those who have said they support it. That latter number is zero.

Does this silent majority really exist?

“The majority of the surveyed people were opposed to the range roads idea,” Heiser said. “If people don’t show up to say what they think, then the select board will have to do the will of the people.”

And those people, we know, have spoken.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)



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