Community Profile

Nature protects Paxton from fast growth

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 9/30/2000

Paxton at a glance
Incorporated: 1765
Population: 4,400
Area: 15.48 square miles
Distance from Boston: 50 miles
Tax rate: $19.70 per $1,000
Form of government: Open town meeting, three selectmen
Nearest hospitals: Worcester
Median house price: $174,600
Public schools: Paxton Center School (K-8); Wachusett Regional High School in Holden Services: Paxton Municipal Light, full-time police, volunteer firefighters, town water, Charter Communications
Houses of worship: One Catholic, one Congregational
PAXTON - While many suburban communities struggle with the lack of affordable housing, sprawl, rapid development of subdivisions and how to preserve open space, this town west of Boston has no such worries. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Consider these factors: Paxton's population has grown by less than 200 since 1995, just three single-family homes have been built this year, one-third of the community is conservation land and home buyers can find a new, eight-bedroom Colonial on an acre of land for about $210,000.

"Paxton is not growing leaps and bounds like our sister towns," said Ronald Johnson, a selectman. "The biggest challenges we face are whether to switch to town sewer and agreeing on construction of a new regional high school."

Nestled high in the hills of Worcester County, Paxton has several natural deterrents to development. Substantial rock and ledge make it expensive for developers to build homes and its sandy soil drives up the cost of installing septic systems. In addition, thousands of acres of reservoirs and park land, including the 400-acre Moore State Park and Kettle Brook Golf Course, are protected.

Homes are remarkably affordable when compared to Greater Boston. The median price for a single-family was $174,600 during the first six months of 2000, up from $150,000 during the same period last year. Last week, 21 homes were for sale, from $99,000 for a five-room ranch that needs work to a 16-room English Georgian Manor House for $1.4 million.

Unlike suburban Boston's bedroom communities, home values here did not skyrocket in the 1990s, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesmen, a real estate and banking journal.

Selectman David Jillette said the reason is simple: "You can't get there from here."

Paxton lacks direct access from major highways. Interstate 190, with its links to Leominster and Fitchburg, is 10 miles away; the Massachusetts Turnpike, which connects the town to the east, is 25 miles away in Sturbridge. Commuters to Boston who prefer the train have a 20-minute drive to Worcester for a more than one-hour trip to South Station.

Louise M. Erskine, a realtor, said the decision to buy in Paxton is a lifestyle choice.

"We're not easy to get to and we don't have a gas station, movie theater or a supermarket," she said. "But if buyers want privacy, a town that looks like a picture-postcard and hundreds of acres of conservation land, this is the place."

There are two types of buyers who shop for homes here, Erskine said. The first are buyers priced out of the Boston market who are looking for a ranch or small Cape in the $130,00 to $150,000 range. The other buyers, she said, are trading up to $300,000 to $400,000 homes or for custom-built homes.

Last year, Paxton Ponds was one of the few new subdivisions in several years. Developers offered four-bedroom Colonials with a two-car garage for $205,000. There are still two lots available, she added.

Of the 21 homes for sale, eight are from $99,000 to $198,900. Five are between $209,900 and $275,000, and eight are priced between $329,900 and $1.4 million. A typical listing is a well-maintained seven-room Cape with three bedrooms, a living room with fireplace, hardwood floors, two baths and a two-car garage on West Street for $187,900.

Jillette said he moved to town in 1991 for the schools, including a kindergarten through eighth grade elementary school in town and Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, which also serves Princeton, Rutland and Sterling.

Last year's Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test scores offered mixed results. Fourth-grade students at the Paxton Center School exceeded the state average in "proficient" score in English, math and science. But 59 percent of students received a "needs improvement" score in English.

Among eighth-graders, 71 percent scored proficient in English, while 56 percent need improvement in history and 33 percent failed science. At Wachusett Regional High, 53 percent of 10th-graders scored proficient in English, 42 percent were proficient in science and 28 percent were proficient in math.

Crime is practically nonexistent, according to the Executive Office of Public Safety. There were 38 reported crimes last year, including two rapes, eight aggravated assaults, 14 burglaries and 14 larcenies.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 9/30/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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