New houses rise out of the frozen ground like daisies in the open land off Kingston’s Elm Street, the perfectly shingled buildings peppering the landscape of Tall Timbers Estates.
Construction started only a year ago, yet 23 of the envisioned 80 homes already have owners. Nine families have nestled into new abodes that sit like the development’s name on 232 acres of open land. A neighborhood is taking shape, a community, where before only existed massive mounds of gravel and sand.
Transformations like this are happening throughout the region south of Boston, as construction on residential and commercial properties has awakened after years of a slumping market.
“The business was very difficult in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. And a lot of people in the business, everyone in the business, ran into some significant obstacles,” said Matt Dacey, the founder of Champion Builders Inc. and developer of Tall Timbers. “[Until now] there hasn’t been a lot of new construction, per se, as there was in the early 2000s. . . .There isn’t a lot of new inventory on the market.”
Tall Timbers had been victim to the lull, languishing for a decade after Kingston approved the open space development. Dacey said he came on board three years ago, and the market has trended upward since.
Coupled with a kick-starting of existing projects is a spattering of new ones. Scituate and Kingston have seen new single-family houses pop up throughout town. In Plymouth, 196 single-family homes were added in the fiscal year that ended last June, and 169 more were built since July. This spring, construction is expected to begin on a South Plymouth village, where 1,200 homes and 60,000 square feet of commercial space are planned over the next decade.
Up the coast, work is proceeding at the SouthField complex on the site of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station. Already, 413 homes have been built or are under construction, with the ultimate goal of 2,855 homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space.
Throughout the region, building permits — which include new projects, additions, and alterations on residential and commercial properties — are on track to exceed the previous year’s numbers. While some communities, such as Marshfield, have seen marked commercial growth, the bulk of the construction is in the residential sector.
An unanswered question is how the now-active market will affect communities. Opinions differ on how bigger populations would affect the culture of quaint communities, or if more houses would burst the seams of municipal services.
Although the wheels of change are in motion, people in the real estate industry said they have been a long time coming.
The stock of housing, both new and existing, has historically been low throughout the state, especially for first-time homebuyers and working-class families, said Peter Ruffini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. What is different now is that the economy is buoyant enough to support the need.
“More builders and developers, they were also affected by the downturn in real estate from a couple years ago,” Ruffini said. “There was a lot on the construction side that was affected. Now those folks are coming back . . . and they can also get financing.”
In Marshfield, a foreclosed street development project on Marshhawk Way is soaring to completion after a different developer took up the reins. Within the last few years, other stalled developments on Hannah Brooke Way and Pudding Hill have pulled the last of the building permits necessary to finish the neighborhoods.
Larger-scale developments in Hingham, such as The Residences at Black Rock, BackRiver Townhouses, and homes at the Hingham Shipyard, are being completed after stagnating during the weak economy.
Sizeable projects in Scituate, such as Walden Woods at Stenbeck Place and Stockbridge Woods, also are kicking into gear nearly a decade after receiving the go-ahead under the state’s affordable-housing law.
The slow production of new homes in the past five years — the lowest in the state since 1980, according to Census data — has only further pent up the need for housing, said Stephen Costello, president of the Bank of Canton, which offers loans to residential and commercial builders throughout the region.
The recovering economy also has created a sellers’ market for existing homes, with ripple effects.
“Now that the values have gone up on the existing homes, you come in as a homebuyer . . . and you can go in and buy this house built in the ’70s . . . by the time you rehab it, it might be just as cheap to buy new and have it laid out as you want it,” Costello said
With interest rates still low, demand high, and financing available, developers have positioned themselves in the first car of the construction train, said Gregory Vasil, chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.
Construction of public transportation, such as the Greenbush line, has also opened up the southern suburbs to Boston commuters, not to mention the ample land nestled among Colonials and capes for those looking to build.
“When you look down to the South Shore, there is more land available . . . and because there is more, there would be a lesser cost than you’d see west of Boston,” Vasil said.
Census data also show population growth was more substantial in the South Shore than in other parts of the state since the late 1990s, Vasil said.
“It only made sense, you build where you’ve got more people,” he said.
Further population growth is certainly a possibility for some communities. Scituate Selectman John Danehey predicted an increase of 500 to 1,000 residents resulting from the larger-scale developments in the works or in the ground in his coastal community, which had a population of 18,133 in the 2010 Census.
Denehey expects commensurate tax growth to balance out any increase in services. But Building Commissioner Neil Duggan sees some potential problems.
“Any time you increase the population, you have an increase, more demand, on town services,” Duggan said. “I can’t speak to the individual agencies, but I’d imagine there would be an increase in the number of kids in the school system. It taxes all town resources.”
In Hingham, officials imagine empty-nesters purchasing homes in one of the new developments, where the offerings range from smaller condos at the Shipyard to bigger houses at the gated community of Black Rock.
Though that would open up some traditional, multi-bedroom homes for growing families, Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades said growth isn’t expected to strain town services.
In some communities, such as Quincy and Milton, most permits have been for additions and renovations. Milton Building Commissioner Joseph Prondak predicts that the resulting larger homes will draw larger families, but also bring in higher tax revenue.
A more pressing issue, said Milton Selectman and developer Denis Keohane, is what happens if construction activity recovers fully from the lull.
Proposals are pending for a 30-unit development at Elliot Street, a 276-unit affordable-housing development on Brush Hill Road, a 72-unit affordable-housing development off Randolph Avenue, and a 57-unit affordable-housing development at the former Hendries building. Together, those projects could significantly increase Milton’s population.
If all those came to fruition, Keohane said, “we’d need a new school,” and the Police and Fire departments would need bolstering.
New “cluster zoning,” which allows for homes to be built closer in some areas, might make Milton denser, Keohane said. Yet he insisted that Milton would retain its bucolic feel.
Marshfield officials, too, suggested that commercial growth from the widening of Route 139 would bring more change than the ongoing residential construction.
“I think it will bring more people to the town, make it easier to get to the beach, to the restaurants, makes it an easier access off Route 3,” said Marshfield Town Administrator Rocco Longo. “It’s a win for the private sector, public sector, it’s a win all the way around. We hope that new growth follows suit.”
Whatever the changes, Ruffini doesn’t expect massive shifts in how the South Shore operates and feels.
“Development doesn’t happen without a lot of planning and forethought, typically, in these towns.” He said. “. . . Most towns do a decent job making sure the development that happens makes sense for the town.”