Westminster at a glance
Incorporated: 1759
Area: 37.1 square miles
Distance from Boston: 50 miles
Population: 7,171
Tax rate: $15.20
Government: selectmen, with
open town meeting
Schools: two elementary, one middle; high school shared with Ashburnham; also, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School
Hospitals: Health Alliance, Leominster; Heywood, Gardner
Community Profile

Westminster's affordability draws buyers from afar

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 6/23/2001 [an error occurred while processing this directive]

WESTMINSTER - It's no wonder Westminster's population has climbed by more than 18 percent in the past decade. As soaring real estate prices put numerous Greater Boston communities out of reach for many first-time home buyers, they have found property they can afford here, close to Mount Wachusett and routes 128 and 495, and within commuting distance of Boston and Worcester.

"Everyone wants to live here," says Preston Baker, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

"Lots of people are moving this way from Eastern Massachusetts, and as a consequence, we're in the midst of two school building projects to keep up with the demand for more classroom space."

Schools are not the only things under construction.

The increase in population, from 6,000 in 1990 to more than 7,000 this year, has spurred the development of new homes. A subdivision that could include as many as 70 single-family homes priced at over $300,000 each is expected to be considered by the Planning Board later this year.

John Vedoe, a broker at Re/Max Property Promotions and a longtime resident, says typical buyers are young couples with children who come from the Route 128 and Route 495 beltways in search of three- or four-bedroom homes in the $250,000 range.

"The lure of Westminster is location," he says, "a reputation for good schools, and affordability. You can buy a bigger home for less than what you'd pay in the Greater Boston area."

Ironically, while Westminster seems affordable to buyers closer to Boston, local residents are being squeezed. First-time home buyers have been priced out of the local market. As a result, adult children of longtime residents are seeking homes in nearby communities, such as Gardner, Templeton, and Phillipston.

The median price for a single-family home in Westminster has nearly doubled since 1994, from $95,000 to about $185,000 during the first five months of 2001, according to The Warren Group.

This week, Realtor.Com listed 37 homes for sale in Westminster.

They range from a small, one-bedroom, one-bath ranch that was built in 1950 and is priced at $119,900 to a year-old, eight-room Colonial. It has four bedrooms and three baths, sits on an acre of land, and is listed for $415,000.

The Web site listed four homes under $150,000 In addition, there were:

  • Two houses in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.

  • Sixteen priced from $219,900 to $294,900.

  • Fifteen for more than $300,000.

    Marie Auger, vice chairwoman of the Planning Board and a Conservation Commission member, says Westminster's recently completed master plan calls for retaining the town's rural character while expanding its commercial tax base.

    Westminster has added nearly 500 acres of conservation land through donations and takings by tax title. But local officials have been unsuccessful in maintaining the town's industrial tax base. Industry has dipped to 16 percent of the real estate tax revenues, from 20 percent just a few years ago.

    The Business Park at Westminster, built on Route 31 near the Fitchburg border about 10 years ago, has vacancies. Auger says companies that may have chosen to set up shop in Westminster have been lured to the former Fort Devens site, located in portions of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley, because the state has promised tax breaks and inexpensive utilities.

    Westminster was founded in 1733, and by 1835 a new road to Fitchburg had been built. Construction of the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad soon followed.

    By 1900, electric streetcar service was established from Fitchburg to Gardner, through Westminster center.

    In the early 20th century, residents were employed in the manufacture of chairs and paper, while a large number of Finnish immigrants settled into farms.

    Today, though, the town is largely a bedroom community.

    Located in North Central Massachusetts, Westminster is bordered by Ashburnham to the north, Fitchburg and Leominster on the east, Princeton and Hubbardston to the south, and Gardner on the west.

    Major highways include Route 2, which runs across the northern tier of Massachusetts, and Route 140 and Interstate 190, which connect the region to Worcester.

    Commuter rail service is available to North Station in Boston from Fitchburg and Leominster.

    In addition to the skiing at Mount Wachusett (most of which is in Princeton), Westminster residents have miles of hiking trails, more than a dozen lakes, ponds, and streams for swimming and fishing, and a golf course.

    This story ran in the Boston Globe on 6/23/2001.
    © Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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