20210602-LOC-Rindge

The Rindge Planning Board is considering a proposal to build 20 homes on a vacant lot near Route 119, as shown in a site plan for the project.

RINDGE — The planning board has tabled a proposal to build 20 single-family homes off Route 119, which a project representative said would include two large lots for the brothers who own the property.

At a hearing Tuesday night, board members voted unanimously to wait for more details on the plan, after multiple Rindge residents voiced concerns over its possible ecological effects, among other issues.

The homes would be built over five years on a large vacant site behind Carol’s Ice Cream on Route 119, with access via a cul-de-sac from the state highway, Kirk Stenersen of the Rindge engineering firm Higher Design said in his site-plan presentation. Most of the lots would measure between two and four acres, he said, though three of them — including a pair on Rugg Pond, at the north end of the site — would be at least 14 acres.

Stenersen, who also serves as Rindge’s planning director, told the board that Shawn and Rodney Seppala, who own the vacant property and who also run the Rindge interior design company Triumph Interiors, would live at the two houses on the pond. The brothers “aren’t really developers,” Stenersen said, but want to move from their current homes to larger properties.

They acquired the Route 119 property in June 2020 for $260,000, according to property records.

The brothers’ proposal calls for redeveloping 95 acres that Stenersen said have been used for logging in the past but are now largely forested.

That plan drew concerns from several residents attending the hearing at the Rindge Recreation Building on Tuesday. (It was also livestreamed for people to view remotely.)

Joel Kaplan, who lives nearby on Letourneau Lane, told the planning board that he’s concerned the new development would displace wildlife living on that site and possibly send them toward his house, explaining that three black bears have visited his property recently.

“That puts my family at risk,” he said. “If they lose their food source … they’re going to [look] for food sources at houses nearby.”

Kaplan added that the proposal could limit the water available to his and other abutters’ well systems and also asked board members to consider whether adding 20 new homes would be too abrupt for the town, pointing to several dozen units proposed by the Rindge-based Navian Development Co. at a different site on Route 119.

Voicing similar wildlife-related concerns, Judy Unger-Clark also urged the board to request a study of possible ground contamination at a defunct gas station on Route 119, near the proposed entrance to the community. Unger-Clark argued that it would also be a conflict of interest for Stenersen to represent the residential development and, as planning director, offer advice to board members while they consider the project.

“This is duplicitous and inappropriate,” she said. “… The planning board needs to realize that this is unethical.”

Board member Katelyn Smith responded, however, that Stenersen is not advising the board on the Route 119 development, given his involvement with the project. She added that Stenersen works part time for the town at a “severely reduced rate.”

“We’re lucky to have him on board,” she said.

Stenersen could not be reached Wednesday morning for comment.

Acknowledging that the development would be a “big project,” planning board Chairman Jonah Ketola recommended that the board wait until it reviews a wildlife study and inquiry into possible soil contamination at the former gas station before voting on the application. The board agreed.

Ketola said he’d also like the developers to add a vehicle pull-off along the cul-de-sac, which they’ve proposed naming Kings Way.

The planning board will review the site June 15 with members of the Rindge Conservation Commission.

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