A Writer’s Observation: Is Downtown Holliston Becoming a Ghost Town?
To the casual observer, the quantity of For Sale and For Lease signs displayed downtown is obvious. Could it be the town’s high rental fees and/or high tax rates keep companies from doing business downtown?
A recent Patch article ranking Massachusetts’ towns’ tax rates from low to high listed Holliston’s tax rate as 290th out of 351 cities and towns. Other area towns were ranked as follows: Sherborn 305th, Millis 289th, Hopedale 254th, Milford 212th, Medway 226th, Hopkinton 237th, and Ashland at 197th. (For the entire state list click here: https://patch.com/massachusetts/boston/ma-residential-property-tax-rates-each-community.)
At one time, Yankee Magazine noted that Holliston had one of the most beautiful main streets and downtown areas–comparable only to Newburyport. Newcomers often cite Holliston’s quaint New England village-like downtown as one of the reasons they moved here.
Holliston’s image is not far removed from 1890’s photos with a few subtle changes over the past century. Perhaps the lack of significant change is due to the lack of municipal sewage, although the town had envisioned completing such a system not so many years ago.
The lack of sewage treatment on small lots limits expansion/tear down/rebuilding possibilities. Additionally impactful, newer regulations such as Title 5 dictates septic disposal.
Local officials have various opinions about downtown issues. Select Board member Tina Hein said there has been an increase in the number of trucks through downtown streets. She hopes town boards and committees can create a united effort to solve downtown problems.
Assessor Mary Greendale told the Reporter she believes empty storefronts are a cyclical issue. “To create a viable retail climate, merchants must provide services and products not found elsewhere,” Greendale explained. “More people are shopping online.”
Select Board Chair Mark Ahronian said that while the town has done a good job preserving open space, more expensive available and buildable land results. Ahronian believes some downtown landlords take advantage of the times, and charge exorbitant rents for downtown locations. “Its just too much.”
Select Board member John Cronin said, “We have a group working to resolve the eyesore at 9 Green Street. We just signed a contract with a firm to perform environmental work to allow us to take the next steps to redevelop the property: these could include razing the building and providing new and convenient downtown parking for folks to easily navigate the park, playground, Fiskes, Superette, the Library and other downtown locations.” Cronin also mentioned the new parking spaces that will be created behind Casey’s on Railroad Street.
Additionally, the Town will redevelop the stretch of land behind Casey’s this year due to a state grant received to improve the space and parking. And we expect to hear from the Blair Square Committee on the redevelopment of Blair Square.
The Gulf station vacancy continues to be a challenge. Its owner (as well as the owner of the space next to Cumberland Farms across from Bertucci’s) appears content to leave vacant property unchanged. Of note, some members of the Economic Development Committee (EDC) have contacted both owners.
Peter Barbieri, in one of his many roles in serving the town as an assessor, member of the Blair Square Study Group, and Chairman of the EDC (Economic Development Committee), sees no rationale explaining empty storefronts downtown. Barbieri underscored the rail trail location and its [previously mentioned] parking space creation behind Casey’s and at 9 Green Street as way to help business owners attract customers.
What are your thoughts about downtown issues?