Views of nature, building mix in Brewster
Growth spurs change in scenic Cape town
By Edward F. Maroney, Globe Correspondent, 11/04/2000
BREWSTER - Anyone with a hammer and saw could work around the clock in this town by Cape Cod Bay.
The Brewster Ladies' Library has doubled in size, and additions are in the works for the Brewster Baptist Church next door. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Down the road, the Unitarian church is marking its 300th anniversary with plans for an addition. A new police station is rising, and the town hall itself has undergone renovations.
Yet the sound of the staple gun is muted within the hundreds of acres of preserved woodlands known as the Punkhorn Parklands, and no building frames obscure the view of the bay from the Old King's Highway across Drummer Boy Park.
"It's not really built up," said Janice Holbrook, a realtor with Stonecroft-Abbott Real Estate.
That all depends on where you look.
Sitting on an old wooden bench at the 1852 Brewster Store or by the grist mill watching the alewives (whose champion, nature writer John Hay, lives here) undulate in the herring run, it's easy to pretend the 20th century never happened.
But even with oversight boards aplenty, rapid population growth and the need to accommodate it have changed the town.
"In Chatham and Orleans, you can barely touch anything," Holbrook said of home prices in neighboring communities. "It's becoming like that in Brewster."
There are 70 homes on the market in town, ranging from $150,000 up to $2,150,000.
"That's a five-bedroom, two-bath cottage right on the water with a private beach and propane heat," said Holbrook. "It has the most beautiful sunsets in the world. That's what's selling it, the view."
A house two doors down from this property, a four-bedroom with shared rights to a private beach, went for $1.4 million last month.
Holbrook's own family, whose roots in Brewster go back to a waterfront purchase in 1930, has homes in the Sunset Beach area.
"I got in when it was really good," she said. "I'm seeing things where prices have doubled from a year and a half ago. I don't know how long it will stay like that; a lot of people bought with a lot of money from the stock market."
Younger people are buying second homes and renting them to others until they reach their retirement years, according to Holbrook.
Her relatives rent out the family beach house, which has six bedrooms, for $6,000 a week during the season.
There are a number of condo units in town, with 830 at the Ocean Edge resort complex alone. About 20 of those are for sale now, with a waterfront unit available for $399,000. The others range from $96,000 to $290,000.
Land is still available, but it's not cheap.
"I just sold 1 1/2 acres with deeded beach rights for $485,000," Holbrook said. "It doesn't even have views."
There are about 20 parcels in town for sale, with prices ranging from $100,000 to $399,000.
The Cape's tight year-round rental market squeezes out a listing every now and then. Holbrook said she recently rented a three-bedroom house for $1,200 a month.
Brewster today, including its house prices, is the product of a growth spurt over the past two decades.
It wasn't just the population that increased, however.
Cape Trends, a publication of the Cape Cod Commission, notes that the town registered the region's highest growth in median household income between 1978 and 1989, a gain of 123 percent to $34,935. At the time, it was the second-highest rate in Barnstable County.
Per-capita income for that period grew at an astronomical rate of 151 percent, the highest on the Cape.
Some of that can be attributed to retirees bringing their pensions to town, but Brewster is a working community, with many "household occupation" enterprises dotting its scenic roads. The town boasted the Cape's lowest unemployment rate, 2.5 percent, in 1999.
A walk along the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History's Wing Trail at day's end speaks more eloquently than statistics about the attractions of Brewster. That's where anyone can see what Holbrook called "the most beautiful sunsets in the world."
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 11/04/2000.
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