Pepperell was declared a District in 1733, then a town in 1775. In those past two hundred and forty seven years we have continued to mature from a struggling farm pioneer way of life, to a prospering agricultural economy in the late 18th and early 19th century, adding in businesses utilizing our river powers, combining industry and farming as the town's duel identity. Our last mill is now a vacant lot. Like the decline and loss of our mill industries, Pepperell's farms are being lost to residential growth as families seek relief from the congestion of the Boston suburbs. Our business community has been little changed as surrounding, highway fed businesses have thrived on residential consumer patterns.
Pepperell, like many towns before it , Littleton, Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Westford and many others, now runs the risk of "backfill" our building zoning by-law areas and become an urbanized town. The process of rewriting Pepperell's newest Master Plan can help explain the choice of "built out" or "rural preservation" we face.
At it's first round of appointments, under Mark Andrews as town Administrator, the Master Plan Committee was largely populated by local business owners. Following public protest of a skewed stake holder committee, the Select Board agreed to add citizens representing environmental, health and social interests. Still missing was a member from the farm community. Master Plan meetings struggled to integrate business interests with land conservation and climate change planning. The final Master Plan did succeed in expressing the interests of all the stakeholders and was accepted by the Planning Board as it's guiding document for Pepperell's future.
The overarching theme was to "Preserve our rural character" and be a sustainable community. Some have suggested that we can continue to increase our home building and also protect our farms. You might be tempted to think that having more local consumers will help farmers to increase their sales. Looking at our suburbanized and commercial neighbors towns to the south and east will predict and help you understand the real and sad outcome of home and business growth in any area, a minimum of farms, if any at all.
Why does that happen, again and again? To farm and feel successful farmers need a critical mass of area farmers to maintain a culture of agricultural viability. As farm numbers decline the support services they rely on shrink and disappear. Seed, fertilizer, veterinarians, feed and farm equipment and repair services can't continue to serve so few farms and close their doors. Rising land values lead to less available tillable acres to lease and farm home values become more difficult to support. Increased road traffic increases the risk and frustration of traveling on public ways with slow farm equipment. Non-farming residents, not understanding farm practices, enter public complaints, frustrating farmers with the. need to defend their work. Those type of complaints triggered "Right to Farm" bylaws to protect farmers. (Please note that there are no "right to be a lawyer, banker, hardware store owner law".) And the hardest loss, not having a healthy and happy farmer peer group to share woes and successes and information with. Becoming a minority, not well understood sub group in your neighborhood creates stresses that will end farming careers.
If someone suggests that at this point, in discussing land use, that we can engage in a balanced approach of mutual interests of both agriculture and residential/commercial interests, they are sadly mistaken. Our open land and farm resources rest on the edge of survival. With the growing challenge of climate change, too easily we can suffer the loss of our most precious community assets.
To reach our Master Plan goals of enjoying our rural character we must focus on stopping the loss of open land and limit our population growth. It is akin to fighting a tidal force. The American cultural imperative is to grow or die. Without limits on growth, without a sustainable land use plan, Pepperell will lose it's rural character, betraying it's well intentioned Master Plan.
And now my plea. To succeed in protecting our farms and natural environment we need someone to seek the office of Select Board member for this April election cycle. Without a strong voice for a sustainable, rural Pepperell, the tide of commercial and residential growth will sweep us into a crowded, unaffordable, gentrified town. The regrets would be tragic.
Again, my plea, see our town clerk for the application to run for the Pepperell Select Board.