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COMMUNITY PROFILE

Market for first-time buyers strong in Taunton

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 4/20/2002

TAUNTON – Despite efforts to breathe life into this city's tired downtown, the district still lacks a draw, either retail or housing. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

   
 AT A GLANCE

Incorporated: 1639 (town), 1864 (city)
Area: 48.7 square miles
Distance from Boston: 32 miles
Population: 55,976
Tax rate: $11.95 residential, $24.93 commercial
Median house price: $178,250
Government: Mayor-council
Public schools: 2 preschool, 9 elementary, 4 middle, 1 high
Per-pupil expenditure: $6,427

 More information on Taunton from Boston.com's Your Town section.

 
"If someone wants to open a Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, or Krispy Kreme downtown, please call us," said Diana Shearstone, president of the Taunton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown offers an eclectic collection of stores, but it's the 160-store Galleria mall in East Taunton that draws regional shoppers.

Any downtown initiative may have to wait, though: The city is grappling with a $5.5 million budget deficit that has the mayor considering laying off 40 city workers, or 4 percent of the work force. And residents face the prospect of fee increases for trash collection and sewer service.

"This is the most drastic budget crisis since the recession of the early 1990s, and no one saw it coming," said Eric DeMoura, Taunton's 28-year-old deputy mayor.

City officials have also been fighting several Chapter 40B developments, which they say could have a dramatic impact on local services. Chapter 40B known as the anti-snob-zoning law, was enacted by the Legislature to help meet the shortage of affordable housing by reducing local barriers, such as one- and two-acre zoning.

Chapter 40B lets zoning boards of appeal approve affordable housing under flexible rules if less than 10 percent of a community's housing units are defined as affordable. Taunton was at 6.3 percent last year.

After protests from abutters and the mayor, Bruce Development Corp. downsized its proposal for 471 single-family homes on 250 acres to 150 homes on 120 acres. It greed to sell the remaining 130 acres for an industrial park.

Still under consideration is a 200-unit subdivision on Warner Boulevard adjacent to the Boyden Wildlife Refuge. The city hopes to extend the refuge to prevent construction of the units, DeMoura said. But a court challenge is expected by the developer.

The market in Taunton for first-time buyers is strong, fueled by couples from Greater Boston seeking affordable homes, realtors say.

Since 1999, demand has driven the average price of a single-family home from $136,900 to $178,250.

"We're seeing steady increases in home values, but Boston prices are crazy, said Marvin Cohen, a realtor at Tedeschi Real Estate Center. "Here you can get nice homes for $225,000. The downside is the hour-plus commute to Boston."

This week, Multiple Listing Service offered 59 homes, priced as low as $45,000 and as high as $485,000. Most are listed for under $250,000, including a three-bedroom Cape for $209,900 and a four-bedroom Colonial for $227,000.

For $219,900, there's a five-year-old, three-bedroom, split-entry home at Driftwood Estates with a cathedral ceiling and a fenced yard on a tiny lot.

There is one thing deterring sales to young families, realtors say: disappointing scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests.

Taunton students finished near the bottom of The Boston Globe's ranking of school districts by MCAS scores. Compared with eight other cities of similar size, Taunton finished slightly ahead of Pittsfield and Chicopee, but lower than six other cities.

A controversial plan to extend the MBTA's commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford, with a stop in Taunton, could drive prices up. City officials support the T's plan, but some environmentalists oppose it.

For auto commuters, Interstate 495 serves Taunton and Attleboro with connections to the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 95, and routes 24, 44, and 138.

Its population grew 12 percent from 1990 to 2000, but with about 56,000 residents Taunton still has the feel of a small town. Each of its five neighborhoods – East Taunton, Oakland, Weir, Westville, and Whittenton – has corner stores, churches, neighborhood associations, parks, and playgrounds.

Taunton offers a variety of recreational spots, including Massasoit State Park, Watson State Park, Boyden Park, Sabbatia Lake, and the Taunton River.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 4/20/2002.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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