Good schools, tax rate make town attractive
By Edward F. Maroney, Globe Correspondent, 9/15/2001
ORLEANS - What price paradise? [an error occurred while processing this directive]
If you're looking for a community with good schools, a rock-bottom tax rate and spectacular water views, the Lower Cape town of Orleans has it all.
But the cost of admission is high, and most of the seats are gone.
"It's hard to find anything under $250,000 that's not just a teardown," said realtor Delores Alberti of American Heritage Realty. "People are buying $500,000 (one-acre) lots overlooking the water just for the land."
The town is "very short right now on new subdivisions going in," she said. "There are 11 lots just coming on the market at The Village in East Orleans, three- to four-bedrooms for around $700,000. It's probably one of the last subdivisions."
Occasionally, one of the town's historic houses becomes available. "A lot of homes are passed down to family members," said Alberti. "But a lot of times the family members can't afford them so they go on the market."
Although she arranged a $1 million-dollar-plus sale on Town Cove earlier this year, Alberti is well aware that some in Orleans are barely making ends meet. Her company makes a donation to the Interfaith Council for the Homeless after every sale.
"Housing costs are horrible, and there's no end to it," said firefighter William Quinn, Jr. As fire inspector, he sees a steady stream of building plans for doubling the size of houses or demolishing them to put up trophy homes.
The 47-year-old native was a week away from closing on a home in next-door Brewster when old-timer Roland Mayo offered land on Baker's Pond Road.
"Mel didn't want the Orleans kids going outside of Orleans," said Quinn. "He just about handpicked the entire neighborhood."
Thirty years ago, the population in Orleans was just a third of what it is today. Now houses have filled in the woods along the roads to the water, and Quinn said the summertime population swells to 25,000.
"When I was a kid, I could ride my bike uptown, go to the movie theater for the matinee and, when I got out, the bike would still be there," he said. "Now we don't even have a movie theater."
A CVS replaced the theater when a regional cineplex opened two towns over, but most modern conveniences are much in evidence around the commercial hub of the Lower Cape. Two major supermarkets bookend the downtown business district, and Staples has come to town. The once-popular, now-shuttered Bradlees building is still waiting for a new tenant.
"The specialty and the boutique and the antiques shops do very well," said Alberti.
Orleans has a special appeal for senior citizens, who make up a significant percentage of the population. Voters have been skeptical on the need for a new town hall, but the senior center has been enlarged and there's substantial public housing for older residents.
There are options beyond senior housing and the million-dollar waterfront home. Free-lance writer Melora B. North started coming to Orleans when she was 7.
"There were sandbars at Nauset Beach," she said. "We stayed in a farmhouse on Barley Neck Road across the street from the Taylor farm, where they had cows."
Now in her 40s, North became a permanent resident eight years ago. After renting for awhile, she wound up on Old Colony Road on land near a long-vanished freight yard.
"I don't live in a rich house," she said. "I bought a condominium townhouse 31/2 years ago. I lucked out and got a good price."
She loves the beaches and shops, but it's something else that binds North to Orleans.
"When I felt like I was really a part of the town was when I joined the yacht club," she said. "It's a really simple club, where people come from all walks of life. There are bankers, there are fishermen, there are IBM executives, there are salesmen and there are teachers. There's no discrimination."
Worried as he is about where the next generation of firefighters will live, Quinn still finds much to admire in his home town.
"I have a small stable where we have kids helping us run the place," he said. "You can't find that in every town."
Quinn's daughter is in her fifth year of service with the Army as a military police officer. "Although they've made her a lot of offers, she can't wait to get home," he said. "She knows she wants to come back to Orleans."
Will she find a place to live here?
"There's always somebody out there to help you or give you a deal," said North. "That's what Orleans is all about."
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/15/2001.
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