By Michael Morton/Daily News staff The MetroWest Daily News Posted Jun 24, 2010 @ 12:18 AM
As the Senate began debating a proposed gambling expansion yesterday, one MetroWest lawmaker pushed for an amendment giving neighboring cities and towns a veto in any casino application.
Based on comments from residents, the outcome would be a foregone conclusion in Hopkinton, even with sweeteners from a developer, Selectman R.J. Dourney believes.
“The overwhelming sentiment is whatever we need to do to prevent a casino going into Milford we should do,” the board chairman said.
Milford has been targeted for a resort-style casino by developer David Nunes. While the town’s selectmen stopped short of pledging their endorsement under a deal signed Monday, they agreed to study the project’s viability with Nunes and promised not to consider any other proposals.
Nunes and partner Bill Warner want to build a 300,000-square-foot casino wedged between the east side of Interstate 495 and the north side of Rte. 16.
The facility would feature slot machines, gaming tables, 300 hotel rooms and four restaurants. All inbound and outbound traffic would use a new freeway ramp from day one, a concession from earlier versions of the pitch.
But Dourney and his Holliston counterpart, Selectman Andy Porter, still cited worries about the project, even as they acknowledge the potential for job creation.
Any increase in crime would overburden Holliston’s small, cash-strapped police department, Porter said. The site borders town conservation land. Local restaurants could lose customers. And visitors would likely use back roads to get to the casino, Porter said.
“They still have to get to 495,” he said.
While the proposed site is not ideal, Porter said, he is not looking to turn the project into a “not-in-my-backyard” situation. Instead, he wants infrastructure worries addressed and a spot for Holliston at the negotiating table should the plan proceed.
But Dourney said the response from residents has been unanimous: no casino. He said the potential negatives crime, traffic and hurt businesses appear to outweigh the promised positives, with Hopkinton’s carefully crafted finances and character at stake.
“You put that at risk with the introduction of a casino in Milford,” he said, with Hopkinton not looking to simply “grease the skids.”
While casinos are now banned in the state, the Senate is considering legislation to sanction three resorts, one in the west, one in the southeast and one in the east, an area that includes Milford. A bill passed earlier by the House would license two casinos, plus slot machines at racetracks.
Among the 164 Senate amendments under consideration is a push by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, to give residents in cities and towns within a 15-mile radius a vote at the polls for any casino proposal. Approval from all the communities would be required for a project to proceed.
Eldridge cited studies showing additional business losses within 50 miles of a casino and higher gambling addiction rates within 30.
“I want to make sure that communities that are so negatively impacted have their right to weigh in,” he said. While Eldridge plans to vote “no” on the bill anyway because of the business and social impacts, he is also seeking amendments to ensure mitigation money for neighboring cities and towns.
“At the very least, let’s make it less bad,” he said.
During the House debate, Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, unsuccessfully sought a similar amendment establishing veto votes within a four-mile radius. She ultimately voted “no” on the bill in part because of the defeat.
“That was attempting to recognize that the impacts of this type of facility don’t end at town borders, she said.
“There’s very little support for casinos in general. People are very concerned.”
As chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said she secured protections for neighboring communities.
For example, she said, a casino application would be incomplete without the developer first negotiating mitigation deals with nearby cities and towns, a process that would see a state board intervene if consensus cannot be reached. Those same communities could also apply for money from a state fund.
But Spilka said she still needs to assess the amendments offered by her colleagues, and determine whether she will end up voting for the legislation.
“I need to see what the final bill is,” she said.
As debate continues, Dourney and Porter said their boards would work with local legislators and place the Milford project on future agendas.
Nunes said he is also waiting for the legislative process to unfold, and tried to ease the fears of Milford’s neighbors.
“Anything we do there is going to have to be approved by the Town of Milford,” he said. “I think there’s a great deal of comfort that local communities can take from that.”