Business-friendly Grafton looks to offset growth
By By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 09/21/2002
The spot was "discovered" in the 1930s when Hollywood producers used it as a backdrop in the movie, "Ah Wilderness," starring Mickey Rooney. Longtime resident Robert Lewis, said: "The only thing missing was a gazebo, so they built one and left it here. The town has maintained it ever since."
On the streets surrounding the common are three white churches with steeples and columns. A handsome ivy-covered brick building, which once was the town hall, now houses several shops. There's a public library and a number of Colonial and Victorian homes.
The former farm town 30 miles west of Boston has been growing. In 1990, the state census listed 10,000 Grafton residents. Today that number is more than 13,000, and Lewis, a Grafton realtor, said there is good reason for that.
"People are moving further awayfrom Boston to get more value for their money, and when the Mass. Pike added an exit in bordering Millbury, Grafton became more accessible," Lewis said.
Still considered a rural town, Grafton has abundant open space. A 1,500-acre parcel, left to the town by private residents, was the site of Grafton State Hospital. When former governor Michael Dukakis closed the hospital, along with several others in the state, he proposed the site be used for a prison. Opposition in Grafton, Westborough, and Shrewsbury, along with stipulations stating the land be used for a medical facility, combined to defeat that plan.
In 1976 Tufts University's veterinary school built a facility on 500 acres. The town welcomed the facility, but the school and hospital are tax exempt and offered Grafton nothing in the way of revenue, until now. Sheila Ide, a member of the Grafton Economic Development Commission, said the university is designing a 106-acre biomedical science park on campus that will be taxable.
"It will be the first time in over 100 years that we've received any revenue from that land," she said.
In addition to the Tufts project, Grafton is excited about the completion of Centech, a 1 million-square-foot office park. The park is already occupied by Verrillon, a fiber-optic company. Town Administrator Russell Connor said he expects a number of biotech and high-tech companies to move in.
"When that park is full we expect to receive about a quarter of a million dollars in extra tax revenue. We hope to establish Grafton as a high-tech area and reduce the residential tax burden," he said.
Controlling growth is a major issue in town, and a master plan is being developed. This year there are more than 400 new home permits on record; last year there were 489 new home permits. A $15.7 million school was recently opened to help offset overcrowding.
Lewis said one of the things he's always loved about Grafton is the lack of pretension among residents.
"Everyone here is friendly. It isn't a snobbish place. Parents with kids in sports programs have an especially easy time getting acclimated right away, " Lewis said.
He said Grafton offers first-time buyers entry-level homes ranging in the mid to high $200,000s.
"The condo market in town is really doing well. We have several complexes where prices range from $200,000 to $350,000," he said.
Grafton is becoming a high-tech town with lots of two-income families, said Lewis.
"We would love to keep the place a secret, but that just isn't possible," he said.
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 09/21/2002.
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