"Just next to heaven:" Rock Ridge development off Cemetery Road in Leb

Two neighbors sit chatting on the porch as I, the stranger, approach. They greet me with smiles free of wariness, and after introductions Linda Whitcomb answers my first question before I can ask it. "We just love it here," she says. Here is Rock Ridge, a development climbing a hillside along Old Pine Tree Cemetery Road between West Leb and the Exit 19 interchange.

The enthusiasm Linda and her friend share for their home is unbounded. Susila Arnold is from Sri Lanka; other neighbors come from India, Japan, China and Italy. Linda is retired from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where she worked in cardiology. Susila is a teacher who, at 80, continues to sub in the Lebanon schools.

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But this is no 55-and-older community. Their neighbors include doctors and young professionals, and across the street they're expecting twins. "To bless us all we have a priest also," Susila jokes.

Jon (left) and Linda (right) Whitcomb share their porch with Susila Arnold.

They talk happily of community parties in the farmhouse down by the road, kids playing in the quiet serpentine roads, bear and bobcat sightings, the certainty that every neighbor would answer a call for help. "I can put it all in one word," Susila says, before taking eight to land on the one that mattered. "It's a wonderful place. Just next to heaven."

Our conversation draws Linda's husband Jon outside too. He is a retired Hanover fire chief, and as he speaks I am startled by a nearby boom. "That's okay," he says of the blasting. "It's a daily occurrence." An excavator rumbles away just up the road, where six more homes are under construction, all based off five plans with names like Raspberry Crisp.

Along with houses Rock Ridge's developer is building nature trails, access to the Mascoma River, a community garden and more amenities, but right now it all has the feel of rawness. Intimacy too; Rock Ridge is a Planned Unit Development, in which the builder agrees to preserve most of the land in exchange for the right to build houses close together, saving on roads and other costs.

It's a good thing the neighbors get along. If their homes had arms and hands, they could tickle each other. Prices start at $339,000 and rise into the 400s, so far all their diversity, one thing the residents share is financial confidence. "We only want positive people," Linda says, and perhaps her joke speaks to that sense of security.

I'm going to return to Rock Ridge, if the residents and the developer will have me. There's a lot to learn here. Because in 2018, this is how we build neighborhoods.

In Rock Ridge, it seems to be working. School was getting out early the day I stopped by. No worries. Susila planned to keep an eye on the neighborhood kids until their folks got home.


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