Slots Parlor Zoning Amendment Voted Down at Special Town Meeting

The proposed zoning changes would have allowed a slots-only casino at 300 Ames Pond Drive.

A full house at the Tewksbury Memorial High School gym on Tuesday for Special Town Meeting. Credit: Christopher Gambon
A full house at the Tewksbury Memorial High School gym on Tuesday for Special Town Meeting. Credit: Christopher Gambon
Tewksbury residents voted against the proposed zoning bylaw amendment that would have allowed a slots-only casino at 300 Ames Pond Drive.

More than 2,500 voters turned out to Special Town Meeting Tuesday night at Tewksbury Memorial High School, with 1,568 votes against the proposed zoning changes and 995 in favor.

The zoning amendment required a two-thirds majority vote, or 1,709 votes, to pass and Special Town Meeting approval was required for the proposal to move forward.

The town signed a host community agreement with Penn National Gaming in July.

The warrant article established the Ames Pond overlay district, superimposed on properties adjacent to Ames Pond in the existing Office Research District.

In the overlay district, category 2 gaming establishments (slots parlors) would have been allowed as presently defined by Massachusetts General Law upon the issuance of a special permit from Planning Board.

Planning Board held a meeting directly before Special Town Meeting to vote on recommending the warrant article pertaining to the proposed zoning changes. 

Members of the Planning Board voted 3-2 in favor of recommending the article, with Chair Vincent Spada and member Nancy Reed voting against recommending the proposed zoning bylaw amendments.

Finance Committee voted last week 4-1 to recommend the adoption of the proposed zoning bylaw amendments.

Town Manager Richard Montuori presented details pertaining to the financial aspects of the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino, and said this proposal would provide the Town with much needed revenue and 1,500 jobs, including 500 permanent casino-related jobs and 1,000 construction jobs.

"I cannot think of another proposal on approximately 8 to 10 acres of land that would generate this revenue and create this many jobs," Montuori said.

A motion was made by a resident and passed early on in the meeting to disallow any non-Tewksbury residents from speaking on the warrant article.

"Tonight belongs to the residents of Tewksbury," said Town Moderator Keith Rauseo following an overwhelming voice vote in favor of the motion disallowing non-Tewksbury residents from speaking at the microphone. 

Resident Fred Simon spoke against the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino, echoing the sentiment of many opponents of the proposal that the process was rushed, leaving voters without the information necessary to make an informed decision at Special Town Meeting.

"I was really dismayed in a lot of ways because it seemed to me like this project was fast tracked like no project that I've ever seen since I've lived in this town," Simon said. 

Resident Richard Wild said he was in favor of the proposed slots-only casino for the revenue it would provide to help fund much needed improvements to roadways and sidewalks around town. 

"We need this for the revenue, just for the money," Wild said. "It may not be perfect, but it's better than what we have now."

The proposed Merrimack Valley Casino was projected to produce $4.1 million in annual revenue for the town, including a $1 million host community fee, $120,000 in contributions to fund Tewksbury's capital expenditures and an estimated $3.1 million in tax revenue.

Resident and former Tewksbury Chief Assessor Jay Kelley spoke against the proposed slots-only casino. 

"There is something wrong with us making money from other peoples weaknesses," Kelley said. "We should not be taking advantage of others, I think we're better than that."

Resident Charles Labella said he was in favor of the proposal and that he felt Penn National would be a strong community partner for Tewksbury.

"Penn National has an excellent track record of working with their host communities," Labella said. "The casino will provide a source of fun and entertainment for local residents both from Tewksbury and from the Merrimack Valley."

After the meeting, Selectmen Chair Scott Wilson said the Board of Selectmen would continue to look for opportunities to bring new business to Tewksbury.

"We meet with businesses regularly and bring them through town," Wilson said. "It doesn't always work out unfortunately. The residents have spoken. We'll continue to look at other opportunities."

Wilson said he felt the short time frame between the introduction of the proposal and Special Town Meeting made it hard to work against misinformation about the slots-only casino.

"There was too much bad information out there and not enough time to combat it," Wilson said. 

After Special Town Meeting, Montuori said he and other town officials would continue to work to address the challenges facing Tewksbury financially. 

"We're going to address it, just not as easily as if this had passed," Montuori said.

Rep. James Miceli asked permission to speak as a non-resident during the meeting, but was prohibited following the vote to disallow non-residents from speaking on the proposal. 

After the meeting, Miceli said he was pleased the proposal was defeated as he felt the proposed zoning amendments and slots parlor would have had irreversible effects on the Tewksbury community. 

"I don't understand how someone could say the crime rate could not be enhanced by something like this," Miceli said. 

Miceli had previously spoken out against the proposal at a Board of Selectmen meeting. 

Jeff Morris, Director of Public Affairs for Penn National Gaming, told Tewksbury Patch in an earlier interview if the proposed zoning changes were defeated at Special Town Meeting, Penn National would not be moving forward with the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino. 

Eric Schippers, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for Penn National Gaming, said he extended thanks to the residents of Tewksbury on behalf of Penn National Gaming.

"Tonight the citizens of Tewksbury spoke loud and clear, and we respect them," Schippers said. "Thanks to them regardless of the outcome tonight."

MM August 23, 2013 at 11:38 AM
High taxes and high water and sewer rates have been spoken about throughout this process. If our property taxes are in the middle and our property values are low,,, My point is, If you cannot afford property in this town (low values) and you cannot afford the property taxes (middle of the road) Where else can you go??
Rob R August 23, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Got it and good question! Shines a light on good reasons it's bad to fight commercial tax dollars from entering our community.
Dirk Anderson August 23, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Rob R, I've heard many people on the Patch (and other places) complain that our property taxes are the highest around, which or course, isn't true. The water and sewer rates are certainly high due to the whole sewer project fiasco.
EMA August 23, 2013 at 01:08 PM
@Dirk...even Jane Dough says it above in this very thread.
Anne O August 23, 2013 at 04:16 PM
I'm very Proud of Tewksbury, and the town meeting process. The casino issue was very complex, and an answer to Penn National had to be decided in a very short period of time. The issue did get emotional, and there were lots of facts, views and opposing views to sift through. In the end I thought the town did great job giving people a forum to voice their opinions and respecting their vote.


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