Environmental impact a hot topic at hearing on Pembroke housing project

  • Land surveyor Timothy Peloquin presents to the Pembroke planning board on behalf of Pembroke Keystone LLC, a developer proposing a 75-unit housing development, at a hearing Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Lola Duffort/ Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pembroke residents packed the town hall’s conference room Tuesday to hear about a major housing project and pepper the planning board with questions about it.

The Billerica, Mass.-based developer Keystone Pembroke LLC, owned by Bob MacCormack, is proposing to build 18 townhome-style 4-plexes and three single-family houses, for a total of 75 homes.

The parcel at issue occupies 89 forested acres between the Pembroke Pines Country Club and the White Sands Conservation area. In its application to the planning board, Keystone says it would build on 23½ acres of the lot, reserve 32 acres for future use with the neighboring country club – which MacCormack also owns – and donate 33 acres that abut the Merrimack River to the town’s conservation commission to expand White Sands.

Rick Van de Poll, an ecological consultant on the project, told the board the proposal to give more than a third of the land over to the town was a big plus.

“This part of the riverfront holds some of the highest ecological value in Pembroke,” he said, adding that there were at least two state-designated endangered natural communities and two endangered species in the area, including a bald eagle nest.

The development’s estimated impact on water in the aquifer below would be “insignificant,” he said, and the effects on wetlands would be similarly small.

“Five hundred square feet of wetland impacts for a 73-unit subdivision is perhaps one of the smallest impacts I’ve ever worked on in 25 years,” he said.

Stephen Pernaw, a traffic engineer, said the development would generate an estimated 42 trips during morning peak hour, and 49 trips in the evening.

“Those kinds of changes are really not noticeable to a driver or an abutter on Route 3. Obviously the impacts on Whittemore (Road) itself would be much more,” he said.

Christine Ryerson, a resident, would later ask about those numbers.

“I’m here with my two neighbors on either side of me, and we have eight cars leaving in the morning and coming home, so I’m not really sure, with 75 units, how 42 came into the count,” she said.

Alan Topliff, the planning board’s chairman, told her the board has similar questions and were told the projections were based on “national standards.”

“We have a hard time with it, too,” he said. “One of the things the board can do is to ask the applicant to pay for an independent traffic study.”

To a resident’s question about the project’s potential impact on schools, MacCormack answered directly, saying the two-bedroom units weren’t meant to draw big families.

“They’re designed for empty-nesters. That’s the target audience that we’re looking for,” he said.

Amy Manzelli, an environmental attorney and a nearby resident, has appealed the zoning board’s approval of a special exception for the project in Merrimack Superior Court.

“The applicant’s work at the ZBA is not done. They just haven’t completed everything they need to do at the ZBA,” she told the board.

Manzelli had asked the planning board to stay any action on the project until the court had ruled on her appeal. Topliff declined, saying the town’s counsel had said they could go ahead.

She also argued the developer would need to go back to the zoning board anyway, since they had received approval for 19 multiplexes, instead of 18 multiplexes and three single-family homes, which was what the planning board was considering.

Topliff agreed, and Timothy Peloquin, a land surveyor for the project, said MacCormack was willing to go back to the original 19-multiplex proposal.

MacCormack tried to develop the parcel back in 2016, but he went back to the drawing board after more than 100 residents turned out to a zoning board hearing to oppose a plan for 186 apartments on the site.

The planning board has continued its public hearing on the project to its Dec. 12 meeting.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)