The current controversy concerning a proposed 24-unit development off Bow Street, which faces vigorous opposition from abutters and others in the neighborhood, is part of a much broader issue: the course of future residential and commercial development in Duxbury. The bottom line is that Duxbury will likely experience far more and much denser development over the next decade.
The late Ruth Rowley, a former Selectwoman and long-time active volunteer participant in Duxbury Town Government, long ago predicted that the real challenge in preserving the semi-rural and historical character of Duxbury would come in the final stages of build out. A combination of factors has created, in recent years, a situation of precisely the sort that Ruth predicted; one that will play out over the next decade or two.
The root of the matter is quite simple. It is that there is a lot of money to be made developing properties in Duxbury, especially if Duxbury’s local zoning by-laws can be eased, set aside, or simply ignored. An improving economy, superficially “do-good” Massachusetts laws that demolish local zoning restrictions, and more builder-friendly land use boards in Duxbury are combining into a sort of “perfect storm” that has already permitted more new residential units than Duxbury has seen in decades. And there is more to come.
When we last did a full-scale Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Duxbury in 1999 it was determined that a complete build-out under the then current Zoning Bylaws could, theoretically, result in an population increase of 80% to a theoretical maximum of 26,877.
Of course, no one expected that the theoretical maximum would be reached. The forecast in the plan projected an increase from 5,100 households and a population of 14,848 in 2000 to 5,378 households and 15,042 people in 2010 and, by 2020, 5,588 households with a total population still of only 15,199.
In fact, the actual population in 2000, at 14,248, was slightly less than estimated but actual growth somewhat higher so that the population in 2010, despite a very slow economy during that decade, was almost exactly as predicted (15,059 actual versus the 15,042 predicted) even though the number of households (5,344 actual versus 5,378 predicted) as slightly lower.
New units already permitted, however, not even half way through this current decade, already are more than enough substantially to exceed 5,378 households by 2020 and larger than predicted household sizes will grow total population much more rapidly in this decade than in the last. Moreover, the pace of new development is increasing and likely to accelerate. Duxbury will be a lot closer to theoretical build-out density by 2020 than anyone thought it would be back in 1999.
Ironically, it is the quality of life in Duxbury brought about by the restrictive zoning and strict enforcement of the past that makes it such a desirable place to live today – and that makes more and denser development so profitable. Unfortunately, however, that development will prove as devastating to Duxbury’s taxpayers as it is profitable to developers, since the actual cost of new units to the town will exceed the tax revenues they bring in. It is not a very pretty picture.