20210804-LOC-Rindge

Kirk Stenersen of the Rindge engineering firm Higher Design addresses the Rindge Planning Board Tuesday on a proposal to build 20 single-family homes off Route 119.

RINDGE — The planning board Tuesday approved a proposal to build 20 single-family homes off Route 119 after considering the project for more than two months.

Board members voted unanimously to let developers Shawn and Rodney Seppala, who own the vacant site behind Carol’s Ice Cream, subdivide that 95-acre property for their proposed development.

The houses would be built over five years, with most of the lots measuring between 2 and 4 acres, according to Kirk Stenersen of the Rindge engineering firm Higher Design. Three of the lots would be at least 14 acres, including two on Rugg Pond that would belong to the Seppala brothers, who own the Rindge interior design company Triumph Interiors.

Stenersen, who also serves as the town’s planning director, didn’t advise board members on the Route 119 development, given his professional involvement with the project, members have said.

The development, which is proposed on land previously used for logging, had drawn scrutiny from Rindge officials and residents, alike, at two earlier planning board meetings.

It drew only limited discussion Tuesday, however, which largely focused on the development’s possible encroachment onto wetlands at the site. Stenersen acknowledged that some areas of a proposed cul-de-sac would fall within 50 feet of the wetland areas but said the road design is needed to “skirt around” a large knoll.

Judy Unger-Clark, who lives nearby, asked the developers whether deed restrictions they intend to put in place would stop future residents from expanding their properties onto the wetlands.

“I’m just worried about people going in and in 15 years, clear-cutting down to the wetlands,” she said.

Rodney Seppala responded that he “wouldn’t see that happening,” noting that state regulations constrain building in wetland areas.

Board members had delayed a decision on the project at their July 6 meeting until after they could review a wildlife-impact study of the Route 119 site, having already tabled the proposal once before to wait for more details, such as possible soil contamination at a former gas station nearby. (Chairman Jonah Ketola has said that state officials monitoring the site found low levels of soil contamination and are testing wells in the area to make sure it doesn’t affect groundwater, but that the levels aren’t high enough to trigger public-health regulations.)

Nobody on the planning board raised further questions around the wildlife-impact study Tuesday, though.

At least two residents had also voiced concern at prior meetings that it is a conflict of interest for Stenersen to represent the developers while also serving as planning director, which Unger-Clark called “duplicitous and inappropriate” in June. Those claims prompted a petition signed by nearly 70 people calling for his removal as planning director. The town’s selectboard and planning board have both declined to act on the petition to date.

Stenersen previously declined to comment on the residents’ concerns.

At the meeting Tuesday, Rodney Seppala said he and his brother were “being conservative with the land use,” noting that much of the site is not slated for development.

“Our intent is to build a nice community here,” he said.

Other business

Also on Tuesday, Rindge’s planning board approved a mixed-use development proposed for a vacant site near the intersection of Main Street and Route 119.

That project would include 13 two-bedroom units, comprising three new buildings, which property owner Jamison Van Dyke of Rindge said would be “luxury” apartments. Several other ground-level units would be office space and warehouse storage, he told board members.

Van Dyke, who said he thinks many people would be interested in the apartments, including faculty and staff at Franklin Pierce University, added that his proposal would create a new “hub” in Rindge similar to Identity Coffee Lab on Route 119.

“I thought it was almost like an anchor on 119,” he said of the contemporary café, which opened in 2019. “I wanted to create another little hub.”

Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.