Development worries former carnation capital
By Davis Bushnell, Globe Correspondent, 08/03/2002
TEWKSBURY The buzz in town, once called the carnation capital of the world, is about Mills Corp., a giant shopping center owner-operator. The company has its eye on South Tewksbury as a site for a large retail-entertainment complex. Residents of that area are concerned about the traffic congestion that such a complex would generate.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Local officials are waiting to review a formal proposal before they comment on development plans from Mills, which is based in Arlington, Va.
Meanwhile, the town, because of its proximity to Interstates 93 and 495, continues to attract people relocating to the region as well as former residents of communities like Malden and Somerville, real estate agents report. As a result, the town's population has swelled from 15,902 in 1960 to 29,960 today.
The newcomers are taking advantage of the town's one-acre zoning and housing prices that are less than those in Chelmsford, Wilmington, and adjoining Andover, said John Duffy, manager of DeWolfe Real Estate's Tewksbury office. In the last year there has been "a surge of high-priced new construction" in the $500,000 to $600,000 range in North Tewksbury, Duffy noted.
And condominium town house prices "are the highest ever," or between $200,000 and $280,000, said Jeanette Tighe, manager of Carlson GMAC Real Estate's office here. Many of the condo complexes are built on land once reserved for the town's once-famed carnation fields and greenhouses.
Recently there were 53 single-family houses on the market, 35 of them priced from $250,000 to $399,999, according to the MLS Property Information Network Inc. For the first six months of this year, 134 single-family homes were sold, with a median price of $299,900. Comparable figures for the 2001 period were 125 homes sold and a median price of $269,900.
Newcomers and longtime residents alike praise the town's schools and its facilities for athletic enthusiasts of all ages.
Like many suburban communities, Tewksbury is reporting gains made by 10th grade students on MCAS tests. In the spring of 2001, the latest period for which results are available, 53 percent of these students were rated as advanced or proficient in language arts, vs. 60 percent in math, school superintendent Christine McGrath said. Failure rates were 13 percent in language arts, 11 percent in math.
A year earlier, MCAS failure rates in language arts and math were 22 percent and 30 percent, respectively, she said. "So, we're showing some significant improvements."
But all of the talk in town is about development.
More than two years ago, Mills lost out on a bid for a $250 million retail-entertainment venue at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station. Now it is teaming up with Gator Development of Melrose to explore developing the Tewksbury site.
Gator has an option to acquire 130 acres of land controlled by Perkins Development Trust. Targeted by Mills, this land abuts the former Rocco's Landfill, now on the Superfund list of the nation's most environmentally contaminated properties.
At the same time, Brownfields Recovery Corp. of Boston is looking into buying cover material for the Rocco's site, which is probably three years or so away from being cleaned up, said Alice Kaufman, a spokeswoman in Boston for the US Environmental Protection Agency. The next step, she said, will be a remediation study.
Access to the Perkins property could only be gained from a new I-93 ramp, an idea being floated by Gator and Mills, and one that South Street homeowners and others living in nearby Wilmington are opposing.
"We're still trying to digest the information we've been given at community meetings, but we need more," said Susan Duffy, a South Street homeowner and cofounder of the Tewksbury Citizens for Planned Growth. "Everything needs to be slowed down so that there will be time to put in perspective what's been talked about."
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 08/03/2002.
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