Real Estate > Community Profiles > Sterling

Old farm town's altered identity brings new issues

By Davis Bushnell, Globe correspondent, 07/20/2002

STERLING — Twin challenges confront this town: preserving its rural qualities and farming heritage while dealing with all the relatively new issues of a bedroom community.

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"We still have a lot of open space," said Remo Rossi, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, noting that the Metropolitan District Commission owns about 25 percent of the land in the town, to safeguard Wachusett Reservoir.

    More information on Sterling from's Your Town section.

Incorporated: 1781
Square miles: 30.5
Distance from Boston: 45 miles
Population: 7,559
Registered voters: 4,810
Tax rate: $16.08
Median house price: $410,00
Government: open town meeting, selectmen, executive secretary
Public schools: two elementaries, Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, Montachusett Regional Vocational High School in Fitchburg
Nearest hospital: Clinton Hospital
"Some [residents] say we should build on the other open land we have," Rossi said. "Others say absolutely not."

The opening of Interstate 190 about 20 years ago was the catalyst, Rossi and others agree, for residential development. Many of the town's 7,559 residents use the highway to commute to nearby Worcester or to Boston.

Colonial-style houses dot what once was farmland. Paul F. Lowe, longtime owner of a real estate firm in Clinton, remembers when farming was king.

"I grew up on a farm there in the 1940s, when the population was 2,000 and all people did was farm," he said. There were dairy farms, vegetable farms, and apple orchards.

About a dozen farms remain, down from more than 50 three decades ago, said William Broderick, the fourth generation of his family to run Sunnycrest Orchards. "Sterling is now a bedroom community with a lot of new and expensive homes," he said.

Clearview Farms, dating from the late 1700s, is still very much alive. Once a dairy farm, it is now a pick-your-own fruit operation, with Diane Melone, a sixth-generation family member, overseeing things.

Clearview has a whimsical footnote: In the early 1800s, a visiting Harvard Divinity School student spotted a lamb walking behind a young girl, Mary Sawyer. He turned that sighting into a nursery rhyme, "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

The town is home to an increasing number of professionals, such as doctors who work in Worcester and others who have relocated here from communities along Interstate 495, brokers say.

"Activity is very brisk. Houses priced under $400,000 are selling in days, a little longer for higher-priced properties," said Clara Gorczynski, owner of Sterling Centre Realty Inc. "Sterling didn't start to build expensive homes until about five years ago, so we're just now experiencing a turnover" of owners.

Five years ago, the town adopted two-acre zoning, altering the way subdivisions are laid out, said Judy Reynolds, owner of Evergreen Realty Associates. Now, she said, culs-de-sac are common. There are two levels of new construction, said Reynolds: houses priced in the upper $300,000s, and those in the $500,000 to $800,000 range.

Two-bedroom condominium town house units typically sell for about $180,000, she said.

Recently, there were 30 single-family homes on the market, 18 of them priced between $235,000 and $449,999. Median price was $410,000, according to the MLS Property Information Network.

Thirty-seven houses were sold in the first half of this year, with a median price of $309,900, versus 32 properties and a median price of $310,000 for the corresponding period in 2001.

In recent years, schools have become more of a draw, realtors say. But Wachusett Regional High School is a much-discussed topic, said Rossi.

"We're at a crossroads with the high school, which is bursting at the seams," he said. Voters may address either a new school or an addition by early next year.

Tenth-graders who took MCAS exams in spring 2001 scored 34th in the state, out of 332 schools, for language arts, and 49th in math. Eighty-nine percent of sophomores passed the language arts and math exams. Results for 2002 are not yet available.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 07/20/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
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