Real Estate > Community Profiles > Dartmouth

In Dartmouth, big issue is development

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 11/23/2002

    More information on Dartmouth from's Your Town section.

Incorporated: 1664
Area: 64 square miles
Population: 30,666
Tax rate: $10.55 (not including fire districts)
Median home price: $197,448
Government: Representative Town Meeting, town executive, selectmen
Schools: four elementary, one middle, one high school, one alternative school
Per-pupil spending: $5,267 (state average is $5,876)
Nearest hospital: St. Luke's, New Bedford

DARTMOUTH -- Residents of this coastal community have voted to spend $1.3 million to purchase the Sousa-Lagasse Farm on Hixville Road, to spare it from development. But the deal isn't final: The owners have been offered $1.8 million by a housing developer.

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The showdown reflects how seriously residents take the threatened loss of Dartmouth's rural lifestyle. Since the 1990s, Town Meeting has authorized nearly $3 million to protect over 2,000 acres of farmland.

"Our top priority has been to control growth and keep as many farms going as possible," said Michael Gagne, town executive.

In April, voters decided to adopt the state Community Preservation Act, raising property taxes to pay for historic preservation, the conservation of open space, and affordable housing. The law allows Dartmouth to impose a 1.5 percent surcharge -- $30 on a $2,000 tax bill, for example.

Residents say that as the town struggles to maintain vital services in tough economic times, adding housing will strain the town's resources. Still, local officials have approved several affordable housing developments recently, in part, because the price of housing has risen beyond the reach of many moderate-income people. The median price for a single-family home in Dartmouth reached $197,488 during the first nine months of this year, compared to $155,000 in 2000, a 27.4 percent increase, according to The Warren Group.

The MLS Property Information Network listed 75 single-family houses for sale this week. Among the lowest-priced was a three-bedroom Cape for $194,900. More than three-dozen homes are listed above $500,000, including a mansion on Padanaram Harbor for $3.5 million.

The Planning Board recently approved two affordable housing developments under Chapter 40B. This state law allows more units to be built than local zoning would normally allow in exchange for making 25 percent of the units affordable to low- and moderate-income buyers.

The newest development is Slocum Farms, a 42-house subdivision. The market-rate dwellings will be priced from $180,000; the affordable units will be offered at $135,000. In addition, town officials approved 72 units of affordable apartments nearby; under consideration is affordable housing for the elderly on a town-owned parcel near downtown.

Dartmouth has attracted 16 new businesses in recent years with tax breaks, including Titleist, the golf ball maker; Zap USA, a metals company; American Medical Instruments; and Harvey Industries, a window maker. The town's largest employer is the University of Massachusetts, which sits on 710 acres of former farmland.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 11/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
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