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West

Milford

Stage set for expanded debate over casino proposal

The two sides have been lining up since the first hints of a casino were heard in town, and as Milford’s Board of Selectmen this week signed a host community agreement with Foxwoods Massachusetts and set a townwide referendum for Nov. 19, the debate has intensified.

Casino-Free Milford, formed by residents opposed to plans for a resort casino next to Interstate 495 and Route 16 since the beginning, is planning a “Call to Action” rally for next week. A group of supporters of the $1 billion complex, Citizens for Milford’s Future, recently started up to help the project gain approval from the town’s voters.

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Outside of town, the MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition, made up of selectmen from Holliston, Hopkinton, Ashland, and Medway, is not conceding anything, and last week announced that it has hired traffic and water consultants of its own to review the assumptions of consultants for Foxwoods and Milford.

And the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen last week wrote an open letter to Governor Deval Patrick calling for Massachusetts Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby to be replaced, and for the governor to put the entire licensing process on hold while “timing issues and other shortfalls” in the fledgling system are fixed.

While the various groups get ready for an intense 10 weeks before the special election, Milford’s voters hold the power to kill the project with a no vote, or send it further through the application process. Subsequent hurdles would include a Special Town Meeting vote to rezone the 187-acre site to accommodate the casino complex, with approval required for the Gaming Commission to consider the application.

‘We have a bit of an edge, a home-court advantage. . . . This is our hometown, we understand what Massachusetts is all about.’

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Foxwoods is one of three proposals still in the running for the lone resort casino license to be awarded in Greater Boston, with both of its rivals featuring urban locations.

Wynn Resorts has proposed a $1.2 billion development on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett, while the owners of Suffolk Downs, and casino partner Caesars Entertainment, are seeking to build a $1 billion facility on the racetrack property in East Boston and Revere.

A sampling of residents in downtown Milford on Monday afternoon uncovered a lot of people eyeing the guaranteed yearly tax revenue and mitigation of more than $30 million promised in the host community agreement, and finding the money tough to decline.

“I think it will bring a lot of jobs, it’ll help a lot of small businesses, and it will help with taxes,” lifelong town resident David Braza said. “I don’t see the problems, I don’t see the bad things happening.”

George Holland, a lawyer and another lifelong resident, said he doesn’t mind a casino being built in his hometown.

“The jobs would be great, and the payments to the town would be great,” he said.

Stuart Zimmerman, an IT consultant who said he is fairly new to Milford, agreed, saying while he wasn’t familiar with all of the particulars, he supports the casino because of the economic boost it would give the community. “And the location is removed from most of town, so it wouldn’t add a lot of noise and commotion,” he said.

While the overwhelming majority of passersby Monday supported the proposed casino, hotel, restaurant, and retail complex, Judith Intille, a grandmother who moved to Milford from Houston three years ago, is dead set against it.

“I think about the children and the schools and the families trying to raise their families with all this gambling, and it’s sad,” she said. “If we could vote it down and get it out of town, that would be great.”

The negotiated host agreement formalizes a schedule of payments to the town that includes an initial $32.5 million to be paid in $5 million installments, starting when a gaming license is issued and ending in with a final payment of $7.5 million. Beyond that, there’s a guarantee of $25 million a year in tax payments and $6 million a year in mitigation payments to fund additional police officers, firefighters, school expenses expected from potential increased enrollment, and additional help with the town’s administration.

In addition, the agreement calls for a payment of $2.5 million into a fund to pay homeowners in neighborhoods near the casino to recover any loss in property values. The money would be available starting at the granting of a gaming license to Foxwoods, and for 10 years after its opening. This was increased by five years after residents complained during last week’s meeting by selectmen to vote on the agreement.

There are also safeguards that require the completion of the traffic mitigation plan along Interstate 495 and a connector road through the site to Route 16, new water sources are guaranteed, and sewer capacity be increased before an occupancy permit is issued.

The one issue that selectmen had wanted to see in the agreement that wasn’t included in the final document was mitigation funds earmarked for Milford Regional Medical Center.

The center had asked for a $5 million payment, but according to the Sid Froelich, of Shefski and Froelich, the Chicago law firm hired by the town to assist it with the casino process, the hospital could not provide data to support its assumption of a dramatic spike in emergency room visits.

Froelich said the best data available showed an increase in hospital calls of about 300 a year, “or less than one a day.”

Foxwoods “wants to be a good corporate citizen,” he said, but it does not want to pay $5 million for something that might actually cost $100,000.

Foxwoods lawyer Robert Allen said the developer “is committed to continuing conversations with the hospital.”

In a statement released after the host agreement was signed, Foxwoods president and CEO Scott Butera said the Connecticut-based company is “pleased to reach an agreement that will help us develop a unique, world-class resort that enhances the Milford community.”

He also praised selectmen for negotiating what he called “the most comprehensive proposal of any applicant.”

Last week he expressed confidence that if his proposal gets approved by Milford’s residents, it will be the choice of the state Gaming Commission.

“Am I confident? You bet,” Butera said after the meeting. “We have a bit of an edge, a home-court advantage” over the other proposals, he said.

“Even though they are very strong applicants, this isn’t their hometown. This is our hometown, we understand what Massachusetts is all about.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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