Building a casino off Interstate 495 in Milford would have almost no effect on area home values, according to consultants for the $1 billion project and the town, despite fears by neighbors that they would not be able to sell their homes once the gambling begins.
“While I’m very pleased to understand that the net impact on the value of my house is going to be pretty much zero, has anyone taken the opportunity to go out and ask folks: Would they buy a house in the area of a casino? Is my house saleable no matter what the price is?” asked resident Tom Russ during a community meeting on the casino project last week.
“I will tell you this — among the group of folks that I have asked over the last several weeks, ‘Would you buy my house knowing that there is going to be a casino within a mile?’ The answer I get back is a resounding no,” Russ said. “That suggests to me no matter what you say about the values, whether they go up or they go down or they stay the same, I can’t sell my house. Nobody wants it.”
Russ was one of more than 100 residents who attended the last of four scheduled informational sessions with town officials and representatives from Foxwoods Massachusetts, which wants to build a resort casino on a rocky, wooded 187-acre parcel near Interstate 495 and Route 16. The proposal calls for building access roads that Foxwoods consultants say would keep 90 percent of traffic headed to the facility off local streets.
But residents have complained that Foxwoods has changed its plans midstream, relocating the proposed 350-room hotel, gaming hall, and 4,200-space parking garage to a corner of the land that comes within 600 feet of homes in East Milford. The original design put the buildings closer to I-495, but project officials said concerns about wetlands, newly discovered vernal pools, and the possible need to move power lines crossing the property forced the change.
Foxwoods is competing with projects in East Boston and Everett for a single full-scale casino license for Eastern Massachusetts that is being offered by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Milford and Foxwoods are in the midst of negotiating a host community agreement necessary to advance the company’s application. Selectmen are expected to make a final decision on the agreement by month’s end.
Outside Wednesday’s meeting, Casino-Free Milford member Geri Eddins waved to passing motorists and held a handmade sign reading: “No Dice. Not for Sale.”
“A lot of us are concerned about the overly positive picture being painted of life with a casino. If you listen to the consultants, Foxwoods is going to transform Milford into the Emerald City. But that is just not going to happen,” Eddins said, citing fears of increased traffic on already congested roads, problem gambling, and the potential strain on the town’s water supply.
A few yards away, Laborers Local 609 business agent Chris Murphy handed out signs supporting the Foxwoods proposal and the jobs the construction could bring for his union and others.
“We need this. This would be our Big Dig,” Murphy said. “ I have 80 guys still out of work. That’s 80 families. These guys just want jobs.”
Inside, Foxwoods Massachusetts consultant Steven M. Gallaway of Denver-based Gaming Market Advisors said he had looked at 10 communities where commercial casinos have been built in the last five years and found that in all but one — Toledo, Ohio — residential property values increased, if only slightly.
The two suburban communities most like Milford — with average home prices in the $250,000 to $300,000 range and owner occupancy approaching 50 percent — were Des Plaines, Ill., and Hanover, Md. Both of those communities saw property values appreciate at a higher rate than the rest of their states, Gallaway said.
“There is zero evidence to indicate opening Foxwoods will have a negative impact on housing values in your community,” Gallaway said.
However, in case the homeowners living closest to the proposed facility see their home values drop, Foxwoods has agreed to add mitigation language into the host community agreement being hashed out with the town, Gallaway said.
The town’s own consultant, William Miller of Chicago-based Appraisal Research Counselors, said he looked at the same communities as Gallaway, plus others suggested by Casino-Free Milford, and reached similar conclusions. Building a casino in Milford should have no noticeable effect on home values around town, he said, but individual homes closest to the project may take a hit.
Jim Flanagan lives on Whispering Pine Drive in one of the homes closest to the casino site. He said he fears his home would become unsellable should Foxwoods build the proposed 660,000-square-foot resort with slot machines, poker tables, and other games of chance to suit 5,625 gamblers at a time.
“We have realtors that have told us we will not be able to sell our home at the current value if the project goes through. These are people not from Chicago, but people from Milford and Holliston,” said Flanagan, who challenged Miller to cite data about homes as close to casinos as his.
“I am very concerned that the town is still engaging in this conversation when a few hundred families are going to be thrown under the bus’’ for the sake of revenue, Flanagan said.
Not everyone at the meeting opposed the casino, including one man who compared the $20 million in property and hotel taxes Foxwoods expects to generate annually for Milford to a lottery ticket he couold share with his neighbors.
“Is there anyone else out there coming to this town willing to make this kind of investment to help our community?” asked Joseph Hyder, who said the ripple effect of building the casino would attract more business to Milford’s struggling downtown. “The town’s infrastructure can only be improved by this.”
“Wake up, Milford,” said Maria Valencia, who waited 4½ hours for her turn at the microphone. “If we don’t grab this opportunity, we will not get another one.”