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Kraft bid to rezone raising anxiety in Foxborough

Company says there’s no plan for gambling

Six months after the town of Foxborough shot down plans for a billion-dollar casino near Gillette Stadium, the lingering anxieties are complicating the Kraft Group’s attempt to find a new use for the property.

In a Planning Board meeting last week, officials of the Kraft Group discussed their longstanding proposal for rezoning that would give the company more flexibility. The proposed wording delineates the potential for a resort or entertainment complex, which Kraft officials have said could include something like the Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor family water park.

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A spokesman said the Kraft Group has not decided how to use the property, but insisted there are no plans for a gambling operation. Still, because the group had sought the same zoning change to build a casino, news of the latest discussion created distress among some officials and residents that the gambling issue was reemerging.

At the same time, a town committee that had been formed to discuss shared development goals along Route 1 with the Kraft Group, the town’s largest taxpayer, was quickly dissolved for fear that its closed-door talks would violate the state’s Open Meeting Law and alienate residents.

The move to dissolve the committee was made after Select­woman Lorraine Brue said it had inadvertently violated the law during an Oct. 2 private meeting with Jonathan Kraft, president and chief operating officer of the Kraft Group, and other company officials.

Citing a “casino hangover,” Town Manager Kevin Paicos said that “the message we are getting from the community, because of all the secrecy of the last year, is that they want things to be open.”

“If we have a discussion with the Kraft Group, people want to know what’s going on,” he said.

On the issue of rezoning, Jeff Cournoyer, a Kraft Group spokesman, said, “This has been something that has been before them for months, if not years, and it just happened to be on the agenda that night.”

The same zoning change was an essential part of this year’s aborted casino venture between the Kraft Group and Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn. While the rezoning would open the way for a resort or entertainment complex, Cournoyer vehemently denied a local newspaper’s report that it could be laying the foundation for a casino.

The current zoning does not allow for gambling, Cournoyer said, “and we are not asking for gambling.’’

He also said the Kraft organization is disappointed that select­men disbanded the negotiating committee for the second time in several months without notice.

Included in a long list of discussion topics are the eight ­additional liquor licenses the Kraft Group is seeking for ­Patriot Place, as well as new zoning that would allow a second hotel and 300 condominium units next to Gillette Stadium.

On top of that, there is the longstanding dispute, dating back to 2006, over water and sewer enhancements and how to share revenue from the pair of billboards on Route 1.

“We have participated in more than a dozen meetings on this subject with various committees and boards and remain hopeful that we can help the town achieve its long-term ­water and sewer goals while ­also attracting new businesses and generating incremental tax dollars,’’ Cournoyer said.

While the Krafts had asked to move the talks behind closed doors because of competitive business concerns, Paicos and others said communication and transparency with residents is more important than ever, as the parties try to salve a damaged relationship.

At next Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, Paicos said, he will recommend that the committee be reestablished, but be mandated to meet publicly.

“I don’t see it as an impediment, but an opportunity,’’ ­Paicos said.

Before the committee was dissolved, the members were Selectman Mark Sullivan, Brue, Paicos, and Town Counsel ­Richard Gelerman.

James DeVellis, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, underlined the importance of keeping the process public and well within the guidelines of the Open Meeting Law.

“That is why we took a little step back, so we can take a larger step forward with confidence,’’ he said.

But he added that Paicos and Gelerman understand the town’s position on many of the subjects under negotiation and should be allowed to work through issues with the Kraft Group “without having all the discussions at our table.”

Selectwoman Lynda Walsh, who chaired a preliminary committee that looked at the Krafts’ development wish list, said she is frustrated with the process and thinks it might be best for selectmen to let Paicos and Gelerman start the talks, then possibly add a consultant to the group or a selectman.

Conducting all negotiations publicly could hurt the town’s position, Walsh said, “or give the folks on the other side of the negotiating table a heads up of our strategy.’’

Despite the assurances that a casino is not under consideration, the town’s antigambling faction remains wary.

Stephanie Crimmins, the head of No Foxboro Casino, said she has been contacted by several people who are concerned that the casino issue is flaring up again.

“We are definitely paying atten­tion,’’ she said. “We can certainly reignite our group if we have to in a matter of hours.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@
live.com
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