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Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the Life of a Town (Chapter 18)

Informational - Historic Articles (posted: Friday, April 06, 2001) | Email this story

Chapter 18

Let's Buy a Little Place in Sudbury

The zoning by-laws approved by the Annual Town Meeting of March 6, 1939, were pretty simple: minimum of 20,000 square feet, 50 foot setback in front, 20 on the sides and 30 in back. No building could occupy more than 40 percent of the area of the lot and God help you if you raised pigs, chickens or mink in the backyard without a permit.

This worked well when there were only 669 dwelling houses in town which were taxed at a rate of $29 per thousand, and the entire school enrollment from first grade through high school was only 357. By 1950, there were 845 dwellings, 493 children in the school system and the tax rate had exactly doubled. To make matters worse, developers were buying up large tracts of land all over town, carving them up into half-acre lots, and selling them to young couples seeking a bucolic life in what was beginning to be fashionably known as "The Suburbs."

And the suburbs were popular. Permanent Building Committee Chairman Ed Kreitsek determined that in the decade between 1954 and 1964 the town quadrupled in size, more growth than in any decade since 1775. Route 128 was completed and soon industries that had been located in the city moved west to cheaper locations. This move put them within commuting distance of Sudbury.

Something else was happening as well. Sudbury's small farmers could no longer hire help for room and board and $35 a week. Men and women returning from the armed forces were highly trained and found a ready job market for their talents. Growing corn or beans in Sudbury's rocky soil was no longer a profitable venture and many landowners were only too happy to sell out to developers.

"Nobody was building out here, it was all farms," recalled builder Walter Beckett who started developing the old Warren Hunt farm at the corner of Concord and Old Lancaster roads in 1954. "There were blackberry bushes as high as your head. It was a regular jungle."

While Sudbury's zoning laws were lax, they were more stringent than in surrounding towns, and, consequently, young married couples would buy smaller houses in Framingham or Maynard and move to Sudbury later when they had children and could afford a more expensive home.

It was not long before the handwriting began to appear on the wall. In October 1954, Highway Superintendent Alvin Noyes warned: "Developments during the past year or two seem to indicate that, unless there is a sudden change in the trend, Sudbury is about to evolve quite suddenly from a small country town to a congested residential suburb."

By 1955, Fire Chief/Building Inspector Albert St. Germain noted that his workload had doubled and Saturday and Sunday inspections were necessary in order to keep abreast. In 1955, 207 dwellings, one school, 11 business buildings, and 28 alterations and additions had been constructed.

Town Meeting took the hesitant first steps toward alleviating the situation in 1953 by establishing three different single-residence housing zones with minimum lot sizes and frontages for each. Zone A (once the entire town) was raised from 20,000 square feet to 22,000 square feet with 150-foot frontage. Lots in Zone B had a 40,000 minimum and those in Zone C, 60,000. The article also provided that all lots laid out prior to the passing of the by-law would be grandfathered, providing they met with all setback requirements and had a house built on them within five years.

But the effort was too little too late. Two hundred and sixty-six building permits were issued in 1955 and the real estate valuation rose above $4 million for the first time. The Finance Committee noted that salaries of town employees needed adjusting, but that there was no money. The Committee recommended $537,450, most of it for schools. It amounted to an increase of $113,708 over the previous year's appropriation.

Town Meeting addressed the lot size problem again at a Special Session on June 25, 1955, enlarging lots in Zone A to 30,000 square feet and keeping the minimums in Zones B and C as they were.

Still, the Town appeared to be falling apart at the seams. Another new school was needed, road construction and repair was way behind schedule and many town departments, including Police and Fire, were woefully short of manpower and up-to-date equipment.

"The town has been in the headlines as one of the ten fastest growing towns in the state with populations under 10,000," reported Selectman Harvey Fairbank. "The population of about 4,000 is about double what it was ten years ago [in 1945]. The amount of the tax bill is of much more concern than the tax rate or the assessment and this is controlled entirely by the amount of money that is voted at town meetings.

"Many of the new people in Sudbury come from places where they were too far removed from public officials and the wheels of government to have any immediate influence, in all probability. It should not be difficult here for everyone interested to have their influence felt."

Unfortunately, the newcomers to Sudbury were already having their influence felt, but not in the way that Fairbank had intended. Developer Alfred Halper's Wayside Acres subdivision in the Pratt's Mill Road area won six national awards for excellence. When one of his split-level creations was featured on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, inquiries flooded in from all over the country.

When some citizens in town tried to tie increased taxes and town expenses to his coat tails, Halper responded with a letter to the editor of the Sudbury Citizen saying that he helped young residents by "building the kind of house people want at a price they can pay."

In 1958, the developers successfully fought back zoning changes that would have increased the lot size in Zones B and C to 60,000 and 80,000 square feet respectively. Town meeting did approve raising the minimum size of lots in Zone A to 40,000 square feet. Later an amendment was added grandfathering all lots laid out before the passage of the article at 30,000 square feet.

As more and more young families with children were attracted to Sudbury, the demand for more schools and town services increased, and taxes rose right with them. It wasn't long before wiser heads started thinking of ways to spread the tax burden. The answer was obvious: industry.

In November 1952, Abel Cutting, who would later chair the Industrial Development Commission for the town, bought a page in the program for the senior class play and ran what the School Department considered a controversial advertisement. It depicted a gravestone upon which was carved: "Here lies Sudbury, without industry." The school administration required that each copy be stamped with the message that it was not authorized by the School Committee or administration. The following year a similar ad appeared.

It would be four years before Cutting's effort began to bear fruit, but by the end of the decade, both Raytheon Corporation and Sperry Rand had built research and development facilities in town.

Sudbury's troubles were still far from over. While the influx of business and industry would bring some tax relief down the road, the Town needed new schools right now. The burgeoning 1954 school enrollment of 761 children was jammed into the Center School and Peter Noyes School buildings with the spillover at the South School and a building on Route 20 rented from the Boston Edison Company.

The first step came at the 1954 Town Meeting where Sudbury voters appropriated $15,000 for the use of a Regional School Planning Committee and later, in a Special Town Meeting the following December, unanimously approved a $1,400,000 bond issue for construction of the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. The new Regional School opened September 10, 1956, with 22 teachers and 247 students, 185 of them from Sudbury.

In 1955, the Town Meeting voted to appoint "a Low Cost School Housing Committee to determine the advisability and feasibility of erecting one or more district elementary schools in the town. And particularly to look into locating available sites for such schools as well as the feasibility or advisability of adding to the present elementary school of the town at a construction and equipment cost of no more than $700 per pupil. Said Committee to consist of one member of the School Committee, one member of the Planning Board, one member of the Finance Committee and two citizens appointed by the moderator."

The Committee did its work well and quickly. Over the summer it acquired options on three sites and presented its findings to the Town at a November 5 Special Town Meeting.

Town Meeting tabled plans to purchase with entailments a 10-acre plot of land from the Cutler family for a district school. While not unwilling sellers, the Cutlers preferred that the town continue to search in the area. The voters did appropriate $5,000 for eight acres of land on Horse Pond Road and $13,750 for a nine-and-one-half acre plot on Haynes Road. The sum of $8,400 was appropriated for 10 acres of Cutler land on Woodside Road a year later (with entailments that would allow land to revert to the Cutlers if it ceased being used for a school within a 20-year time period.)

The following year the town appropriated $450,000 for construction and equipment of a new school at the Horse Pond Road site. The new building came in $15,000 under budget and was occupied by 120 pupils on March 14, 1958, drawing raves for its utilitarian design which included a cafeteria with tables and benches that folded into the walls to create an auditorium or play area.

Completion of Horse Pond took off some of the pressure, allowing the School Committee to discontinue use of the Edison Building on the Post Road and the Lincoln-South building in Lincoln which was provided as a courtesy until Lincoln-Sudbury was completed, but Sudbury wasn't out of the woods yet. The committee predicted that more new elementary schools would be needed soon.

While construction was going on, the School Committee was taking steps to assure that Sudbury children would be taught by the best teachers available. A revised salary schedule for teachers was adopted which provided minimum salaries from $3,400 to $3,700. These were quickly increased to $3,800 for a B.S. and $4,000 for a master's degree. In 1955, 41 teachers were supervising the education of 840 kids.

The assessed real estate valuation rose to $5,691,665 in 1957, the first time over $5 million. The tax rate rose to $81.50, an increase of $9.50 in a single year. Some 1,533 dwellings were assessed, up 378 from 1956. These numbers really began to sink in when parents discovered that their children were once more in crowded classrooms or in temporary quarters at the Peter Noyes school gymnasium.

At the Town Meeting of March 6, 1957 the Town girded for the inevitable. The Low Cost School Building Committee was reincarnated as the Permanent School Building Committee and charged with making surveys at the Haynes, Loring and Fairbank School sites and then overseeing bids and construction as directed by the School Committee and the Town. One of its first moves was the purchase of land for the Fairbank Road School for $14,000.

"It was a sensible thing to do," said Ed Kreitsek, who served on the Committee from 1955 to 1962. "There were lots of things to do. When the need for another school came along, Town Meeting might have had to find five other guys, [for the building committee] and then after that, five other guys, all of whom would have to learn the process.

"Getting state aid requires a lot of complicated paper work, but we knew how to do it and get a fairly quick response. So I suggested we change the name from Low Cost School Building Committee to Permanent Building Committee so we could continue to use the same know-how for other schools."

The original Committee was chaired by real estate man Don Neelon and included Kreitsek, Stephen E. Grande Jr., Robert J. Caldwell and Francis G. Publicover. By the time it had disbanded in 1962, it had supervised the construction of seven schools, two fire stations and a police station.

Horse Pond School was not even occupied before the Committee went to work getting the Fairbank Road project off the ground. An unprecedented budget hearing was hosted by the Finance Committee to discuss articles at an upcoming Town Meeting pertaining to schools. A record 300 citizens showed up, attracted by the opportunity to tour the soon-to-be-opened Horse Pond Road facility.

They were told that the Special Town Meeting would be asked to appropriate $450,000 to speed the construction at Fairbank. On February 6 the voters did them one better, approving $485,000 for the new facility by a 253-10 margin.

Construction had hardly begun before newly-appointed Superintendent-Principal C. Newton Heath, noting that first through fifth graders at Horse Pond School were on double sessions awaiting the completion of Fairbank school, predicted the need for another new elementary school and a new junior high by 1961. "We can't stop Sudbury from growing," editorialized the Sudbury Citizen. All we can do is grow with it and provide for the educational needs of our children."

The Town apparently agreed. On October 21, 1958, a Special Town Meeting voted 134-12 to appropriate $1,005,000 for TWO new elementary schools, one on Woodside Road in East Sudbury and the other to be built on land located off Old Lancaster Road to be taken by eminent domain. Later the site was changed to land off Concord Road and became the Nixon School.

Indeed, 1958 was a record year for enrollment in Sudbury schools. Four hundred fifty-three students registered at Lincoln-Sudbury, and 1,172 in elementary and junior high, as residents flooded the local newspapers with letters urging more zoning controls to lessen the financial pressure caused by the influx of school-age children.

More than 200 voters showed up at Finance Committee meetings in early October and got some more shocking news. The elementary schools needed $1,050,000; more land needed to be purchased for schools over and above the $1,050,000 earmarked for Loring and Nixon, and $4,500 was needed for an engineering study at the High School. The school population was exploding, and the tax rate, at $85 per thousand, was exploding right with it.

As the decade came to a close, the emphasis shifted from building elementary schools to reining in what many considered to be extravagant and excessive per-pupil costs at Lincoln Sudbury. Administrators defended the $562.95 per year expense for educating each child at L-S. Critics pointed out that Weston, at $649.64, was the only high school spending more.

There was also the matter of a $20,000 appropriation for plans to build a $1,275,000 addition onto the high school that raised the voters' hackles. A hearing was scheduled the month prior to Town Meeting and the Sudbury Citizen editorialized that voters should focus on quality of teaching and scholarship standing, not just numbers. The planning money request passed, and, later at a Special Town Meeting, the bond issue--less $275,000 for a proposed auditorium--was approved as well. That, along with an additional $275,000 for schools, pushed the tax rate up an additional $5 to $90.

With Raytheon and Sperry Rand soon to be pumping tax money into the Town's coffers and four schools in various stages of construction, Sudbury taxpayers headed into the '60s enjoying a slight respite. But there would be more headaches ahead.

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson's History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.

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