Things are happening in Shrewsbury. After a vote in late April, the former Spag’s property is slated to be transformed into Lakeway Commons, a pedestrian-friendly development with apartments, condos, restaurants, and stores. The public library is poised to undergo a $23 million renovation and expansion. And Tuesday, voters are scheduled to vote on a $5.5 million override of Proposition 2½, with the bulk of that money going to the schools.
Incorporated in 1727, the historic town is at a turning point. Taxes have been low and the schools quite good. But town officials argue that the town has started to slip and, without the override, further decline is inevitable. Six previous override attempts since 1992 have all failed. (Numerous debt exclusions — which result in temporary tax increases until the project is paid for — have been approved for things like the purchase of open space, a fire station renovation, and several school building projects.)
The “lake’’ in “Lakeway’’ refers to Lake Quinsigamond, a roughly 772-acre lake dividing Shrewsbury and Worcester.
The Donahue Rowing Center, which the town owns, hosts crew teams from Shrewsbury High School, St. John’s High School, and other area schools and colleges. Another jewel of the town is Dean Park, a 75-acre parcel with basketball and tennis courts, walking trails, playing fields, and fishing.
The town has had a few brushes with fame. It was home to General Artemas Ward, commander in chief of Massachusetts forces during the Revolutionary War. The first oral contraceptive was developed at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in town. And comedian Mike Birbiglia grew up here.
Amount the town population increased between 1990, when residents numbered 24,146, and last year, when the count was 33,685. Back in 1723, there were just 40 families. A big surge in growth came in the decade between 1950 and 1960, when the population rose from 10,594 to 16,622.
How much the tax bill for an average single-family home (assessed at $368,380) will increase if the override passes Tuesday. The average property tax bill for a home in Shrewsbury is $4,483. By contrast, next door in Westborough, that bill is $8,134.
Shrewsbury’s ranking last year on Money magazine’s annual list of the Best Places to Live. The magazine cited the town’s scenic small-town vibe, low taxes, and ethnically diverse restaurants.
The number of syllables in the name “Shrewsbury,’’ though longtime locals have been known to pronounce it “Shoes-bree.’’ As odd a name for a town as it may be, consider this: The Kennedy Biscuit Co., early maker of the Fig Newton, also had a treat called the Shrewsbury. Um . . . yum?
Electricity, cable, Internet, and phone service are municipally owned, offered by Shrewsbury Electric and Cable Operations, SELCO. That translates to reasonable rates and good service. Power rarely goes out in winter, and when it does, it’s quickly restored. The help desk is open until 10 p.m., even on weekends.
Though parts are lovely, the center of town suffers from a lack of parking (a municipal lot would be fabulous), some buildings that look a bit tattered, and, like sections of Route 9, unattractive signs. Beautification efforts yielded attractive street lights and plantings, but a design review board would take things to the next level.
The town has wicked good neighbors. Say what you will about Worcester, it is, in fact, a major city, and an up-and-coming one at that. There are great hospitals and restaurants, cultural attractions like the Worcester Art Museum, plus things like ethnic markets and a good shoe cobbler. Major roadways offer easy access to Boston and Providence.
Rapid development has strained town services, most notably leading to the need for more schools and, even then, larger class sizes. It sometimes seems that battles over town spending are never-ending.
Vanessa Parks is a freelance writer in Central Massachusetts. Send e-mail to Address@globe.com.