Despite recent reports to the contrary, Foxborough Board of Selectmen chair James DeVellis dispelled any rumors that a casino in Foxborough will remain an issue until the state’s gambling licenses are issued.
“I was told specifically [by the Kraft Group] they are not pursuing a casino in Foxborough despite the recent newspaper articles,” DeVellis told the board at Tuesday’s meeting.
In the Jan. 10 Foxboro Reporter article, “Casino still on the radar in 2013,” two selectmen – Mark Sullivan and Virginia “Ginny” Coppola – each expressed personal concerns that last year’s casino issue hasn’t "gone away.”
The Kraft Group and developer Steve Wynn suspended efforts to bring forth a casino proposal to Foxborough after Coppola and selectman Lorraine Brue were elected and re-elected to the town's BOS last May. Both women opposed a casino in Foxborough.
In October, the Kraft Group delivered a clear message to anyone concerned that the company could reopen the possibility of a casino coming to Foxborough through proposed zoning changes along Route 1.
“We are not pursuing a casino,” said Jeff Cournoyer, spokesman for The Kraft Group. “We are honoring the town’s position on that, as we said we would from the very beginning.”
On Tuesday, DeVellis’ summary of a recent meeting he had with representatives of the Kraft Group was consistent with what Cournoyer told Foxborough Patch in October.
“The first thing I did [during the meeting with the Kraft Group] was put a spotlight on the elephant in the room and that was the casino,” DeVellis told selectmen in a prepared statement Tuesday. “There is no hiding the topic and there is no denying it has had an impact on the entire town. I see it at [the selectmen’s] table each week in one forum or another and not talking about it would have been kidding ourselves … it would have been disingenuous going forward.”
DeVellis said the town – represented by himself, Town Manager Kevin Paicos and Town Counsel Richard Gelerman – and the Kraft Group each indicated there were missteps during the casino debates in 2012, which has directly or indirectly impacted other negotiations between the two entities over the past year.
“Unfortunately bells cannot be unrung,” DeVellis said. “Whether it be quotes in the newspaper or standing at a microphone or putting mailers in the mail. We have hopefully all learned from this. The issue lingers regardless of which side you stood on and the fact is there have been lost business opportunities and business relationships [as a result]. … Lost or strained friendships [and] there is perhaps still a sense of distrust.”
Despite these “scars” from the past year, DeVellis says he is hopeful the town can finally close the door on 2012 and look forward to 2013 with a clean slate.
“I thought I would take this opportunity to put it on the table and ask people to move forward as we close the door on last year,” DeVellis said. “Each topic that comes before [the Board of Selectmen] should be judged on its merit with the history behind us and not in front of us.”
The recent meeting between the Kraft Group and the town was the result of a request DeVellis made to the board in November.
“What I’d like to do is reach out through our Town Counsel [Richard Gelerman] with [Town Manager] Kevin [Paicos] and have a meeting with the Kraft Group as the chairman of the Board of Selectmen and see what [the Kraft Group’s] interests are and see what our interests are,” DeVellis said during the November BOS meeting.
That request was met with unanimous approval by the board and on Tuesday, DeVellis shared his findings from that meeting with the BOS members through a multi-page prepared statement that lasted about 10 minutes.
“It’s a topic I think is very important to the town,” DeVellis said. “There’s a lot of things that keep coming up about the casino and development so I took a few minutes to put my thoughts together and summarize what’s happened since the board authorized me to meet with the Kraft organization.”
DeVellis highlighted three things he took away from that meeting:
- Both sides heard things that they probably did not want to hear but probably needed to be said.
- Both sides learned a little bit from the other.
- Both sides found some common ground in a process that DeVellis is hopeful will move forward.
DeVellis said while the town and Kraft Group did not get together and “have a group hug” there was progress made in moving forward to renewed dialogue in 2013.
“Both sides will continue to work in the town’s and [Kraft Group’s] best interests,” DeVellis said. “[The town’s interest] is a balance of tax-base and development and public safety. [The Kraft Group’s interest] is a sound business plan.”
DeVellis was clear to point out the recent meeting between the town and the Kraft Group was not to negotiate but rather to identify areas of mutual interest and clear the air on lingering issues.
“The recent meeting was not a meeting to negotiate and come to a decision on any one topic,” said DeVellis. “We did talk in general terms about issues and opportunities.”
DeVellis added that he was pleased to report good news on several findings from the meeting with the Kraft Group:
- “I am pleased to [report] that the recent anxiety over the billboards has eased and we are back on track thanks to the Water & Sewer Board working with the Kraft organization directly,” DeVellis said.
- “I am pleased to be told the Kraft Group is investing in consultants to study the parking and every day operations to address some of the concerns and issues that will arise and bring their operations to a higher level,” DeVellis said.
- “I am pleased that we have dialogue where we ask each other what to expect from the other in the future from both of our perspectives,” DeVellis said. “There’s much to gain by doing this and too much to lose by not doing that.”
- “I am pleased that we agree that the process we have used in the past in Foxborough should be the one utilized [moving forward],” DeVellis said.
That process, according to DeVellis is as follows:
- If any business wants to discuss new zoning or site plan regulations with the town it should go to the Planning Board or Zoning Board.
- If a business wants to address sewer and water issues it should go to the Water and Sewer Commissioners.
- If a business is seeking restaurant development in town, it should go through the Board of Health.
- If a business is seeking an additional liquor license it should go through the Board of Selectmen.
A key, however, for the town to effectively move forward with its largest business partner in 2013 remains communication.
“We can each reach our goals easier if we understand each other,” DeVellis said. “I really look forward to moving forward with development plans along Route 1 and continue the dialogue so if something comes forward we are in a better situation to discuss that.”
The recent meeting between the town and the Kraft Group was a positive first step in that direction.