Douglas facing challenges of rapid growth
By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 10/14/2000
DOUGLAS - In the 1980s, when a Route 146 exit on the Massachusetts Turnpike to improve access to Boston and Springfield was just a dream, residents here predicted that a new connector would lure more people to town. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Those predictions proved to be correct. The interchange opened last year and Douglas's population has nearly doubled in the 20 years it took to open the interchange.
One of 11 communities in the Blackstone Valley, which straddles the Rhode Island and Connecticut borders, Douglas is experiencing dramatic growth.
Mitchell Cohen, School Committee chairman, said school enrollment is expected to reach 1,842 by 2010, up from 863 in 1990. To serve the rising numbers of students on a temporary basis, officials have purchased 11 modular classrooms.
While the temporary classrooms will do the job for now, voters will be asked to approve $25.6 million for a new high school on Oct. 21. The town failed to get the two-thirds majority needed for the new school at Town Meeting in January.
Cohen said the Proposition 2 1/2override will succeed because the project's budget has been slashed from $43 million.
Thomas Navaroli Jr., chairman of the Board of Selectman, said town committees and boards believe construction of a new school is essential. And so far, he hasn't heard any objections to the revised plan.
This summer, a new fire station opened on Route 16 and the first full-time fire chief along with two emergency medical technicians were hired to augment a volunteer fire department.
To help pay for the school and services, the town hopes to increase the amount of revenues generated from commercial properties.
The mission of the newly created Economic Development Commission [EDC] is to increase the town's commercial tax base from 5 percent.
"The biggest question has always been: Where is Douglas? The connecter puts us on the map and creates new opportunities for us," said Harold Davis, EDC chairman.
Two large parcels on the outskirts of town are more appealing to developers because of the Route 146 Turnpike exit, Davis said. The gravel pit on nearly 100 acres along Route 146 could be the site of a future office park. And a 2,500-acre site just off Route 395 that is zoned for industry would be perfect for warehouse distribution, he added.
Founded just before the American Revolution, Douglas's early economy was built on agriculture, lumbering, charcoal making, cattle and sheep, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
By the early 1900s, the manufacture of cotton and wool, shoes, and tools were the prominent industries. Today, Douglas is a bedroom community for residents who work in the Boston, Worcester, and Providence areas.
While the median price for a single-family home dropped slightly in 1998, home values have been on the rise ever since, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, a real estate and banking journal.
For the first six months of 2000 - the most recent data available - the median price of a single-family dwelling was $161,700, up from $143,500 last year.
Karen Mercure, a realtor at Re-Max First Choice Real Estate, said most buyers are couples with young children looking for a large home in a cul-de-sac.
"I'm working with a couple from Watertown who want to live in the woods because they're sick of city living and prefer the sounds of birds to street noise," she said. "Douglas offers privacy and more value for your dollar for anyone looking to get a little further out."
Most couples are looking at homes in the $220,000 to $250,000 range for 2,000 square feet of living space, Mercure said.
Typically, the buyers she sees are considering several communities in the Blackstone Valley, including Sutton, Grafton, Millbury, Northbridge and Uxbridge, she said.
The Multiple Listing Service listed 22 homes for sale in Douglas last week. Eight of the homes are priced between $223,597 and $294,900. For $235,000, you can buy a new Colonial with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a two-car garage on 2.33 acres.
The lowest-priced home is a five bedroom, turn-of the-century Colonial on a wooded lot with just under two acres for $145,000. On the high end is a nine-year-old Colonial with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, walk-in closets and a laundry room on a small lot on Whitins Reservoir for $350,000.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 10/14/2000.
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