Residents made it clear where they stood on the casino venture of Patriots owner Bob Kraft and Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn: Thanks, but no thanks.
More than 500 residents packed the auditorium at Ahern Middle School Thursday night for a planning zoning hearing discussing the proposed verbiage change in the Economic Development Area Overlay District. The change would allow for construction of a commuter rail station, 300-foot buildings, hotels, indoor-outdoor conference facilities, a resort-style facility, among others.
This is the third hearing on the proposed changes; the first, however, since Kraft and Wynn made public their desire to build a casino across from Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
"I don't want anyone to think that all along they've known, we've known, that this is all about a casino. Because that's just not true," said Kevin Wienfeld, chairman of the planning and zoning board. "Then again, that doesn't mean that it denies them the opportunity should these changes go through."
The proposed changes came about over a year ago, said board member Bill Grieder, before the gaming bill was ever passed in the state legislature.
"But if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then I believe it's a duck," Walpole Town Administrator Michael Boynton told the board. "When you combine all the proposed changes…that's a massive, massive change of use that doesn't exist today. The Town of Walpole asks you to consider the human lives…and cast your vote no."
Members of Walpole's and Norfolk's planning and zoning boards were also present, voicing their opposition against the changes. "Any buffering you can do (between the zones, town lines) would be appreciated," said Andrea Langhauser, Norfolk planning board member. "I would encourage you to get a traffic study report, and a state environmental impact report."
Though the majority of those present were against the changes, there were a few residents who took to the microphone to express their support. "Taxes are being continually raised, there are cuts in services with no revenue in sight except (a casino) to take care of it," said Daniel Flynn of Foxboro. Flynn, a New England Regional Carpenters Union delegate, said that for the right reasons, a casino would be great for the area. "You've got a lot of folks worrying about paying their mortgage, jobs, and a casino would bring about 10-to-12,000 jobs to those who are hurting so bad," he said.
In 2004, as well as this past September, both the planning board and the board of selectmen were presented with the option to allow for a casino to be built along Route 1, even though the gaming bill had not yet passed. Each time, Grieder said, the boards' response was a unanimous "no." "Even if this were to change, as I understand the gaming bill, it would be a good five years before a spade ever hit the earth," said Wienfeld.
First, the selectmen have to approve a casino proposal brought to the board by a developer, Jim DeVellis, Foxborough Selectman, told planning and zoning members. Once it's approved, the developer would have to apply for a license through the state gaming commission. From there, he said, the developer has to make presentations to neighboring towns, a vote to change the zoning, all followed by a town vote to officially approve the casino.
"It's a long, five-step process," DeVellis said. "And the (Foxborough) Board of Selectmen have not been presented with a casino proposal, the first step."
Other concerns voiced by residents included the potential increase in criminal activity, traffic, population growth and an overall change to the "small-town feel," of Foxborough.
"Foxborough is an idealic little town," said Jennifer Keen, who was raised in Foxborough and moved to Plainville a few years ago. "It's a great town to raise your kids in. Low crime, and nothing really bad about it."
The planning board rejected two measures Thursday that would have allowed new uses including multi-family housing, a convention center, buildings up to 300 feet, a commuter rail station, and bus station.