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A horse racing track in Plymouth? Don’t bet on it.

Local opposition is mounting following a vote by county commissioners to let a developer explore the possibility.

Neal Tewksbury lives adjacent to county property that has been proposed as the site of a horse racing track in Plymouth.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The 106-acre property owned by Plymouth County and known as the “Wood Lot” has been empty for decades. But a recent proposal to build a horse racing track there has riled some residents.

A unanimous vote by Plymouth County commissioners on March 31 allows developer Boston South Real Estate and Development Group LLC to spend the next three years examining the land for a $500 million plan to develop a “world class Racing, Sports and Entertainment destination,” according to Boston South’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Plymouth County will receive annual lease payments totaling $450,000 in exchange for keeping the property off the market. The lease is set to be signed on June 23. The developer’s current proposal includes a thoroughbred race track, stables for 150 horses, and a grandstand for spectators.


Boston South is years away from filing any permits, but backlash from residents has been swift. Concerns range from noise to traffic to the destruction of a rare coastal pine barren that sits on the Wood Lot.

“This represents something completely alien to the culture of the community,” said Frank Mand, vice president of the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance and a member of Plymouth’s planning board. “We have a historic legacy, and this is something that would completely change the tone and character of it.”

In January, the county commissioners announced that they were looking to lease the parcel that stretches from Camelot Drive to Tall Pines Road in Plymouth. Boston South was the only entity to return a completed proposal out of seven that received a request for proposals packet, said Commissioner Jared Valanzola.

“I feel as if I would be doing a disservice to Plymouth County if I didn’t properly explore and vet all opportunities for the benefit of the county,” Valanzola said. “And if this gets to the end of the line and it turns out it’s not something that’s going to be viable then so be it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and we’ll continue to explore opportunities on that property.”


While Plymouth County lawmakers say they are far from endorsing Boston South’s plan, some residents are skeptical. At a March 29 Plymouth Select Board meeting, attendees expressed their concerns about the development before the board voted 3-2 to write a letter in support of Boston South as it enters the due diligence process. But the letter stopped short of supporting any specific use for the land.

Signs were posted along Tall Pines Road in Plymouth against a horse racing track. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Two days later at a county commissioner meeting, residents say they weren’t permitted to speak on the development, sparking outrage and “shame” chants. After the meeting, residents say Commissioner Gregory Hanley invited them to the basement to discuss the proposal.

“We appeared before them, and they would not let anyone speak,” said Plymouth Town Meeting member Richard Serkey. “It was quite astounding.”

As a retired real estate attorney, Serkey’s biggest concern with the development is zoning bylaws. He contends that because a majority of the property is zoned as rural/residential, it would require a change approved by a two-thirds vote of the Town Meeting to be used for commercial development.

“I think it’s highly unlikely the Town Meeting will do that,” he added.

This isn’t the first time the horse racing industry has attempted to break into southeastern Massachusetts. A proposed track in Wareham that required similar zoning changes was defeated at the Town Meeting in a landslide vote last spring.


“I feel like there are other options than what they’re proposing here, and a horse track just sounds crazy, because they’re going out of fashion,” said Alyse Bruneau, a Plymouth resident and board member of the Pine Barrens Alliance.

Suffolk Downs, New England’s last thoroughbred race track, closed for good in the summer of 2019. The 161-acre site straddling East Boston and Revere will be the site of 16.5 million square feet of new development. Construction on a $280 million biomanufacturing facility in Revere began in March.

Bruneau said she’s also concerned about the influx of traffic the development would bring to the area, as well as disruption to an aquifer that runs underneath the Wood Lot. Boston South said that it will preserve land it owns in South Plymouth as mitigation for the development.

“The pine barrens are diminishing, but it’s still such a thriving ecosystem that brings in a lot of different biodiversity,” Bruneau said. “When we keep fragmenting it, we’re just going to lose the uniqueness that we have here.”

Meanwhile, Boston South is telling residents to calm down. The developer has just started a long period of listening to resident concerns, said Loring Tripp III, director of planning and community development for Boston South.

“Nothing’s written in stone,” Tripp said. “I cannot guarantee that anything is going to fit there until we go through a legitimate, long-term, expensive, $4-6 million planning process… and it doesn’t cost the town anything other than helping provide us with the information and feedback.”


Boston South could also consider minor league baseball facilities, hotels, or a convention center for the land, Tripp said, all with the goal of attracting tourists to Plymouth and creating a permanent revenue stream for county government. He noted that part of the Wood Lot is zoned as light industrial and said Boston South would be examining zoning concerns over the next three years.

A portable child's swing near a home on Tall Pines Road sat on the field where a horse racing track is being proposed.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Tripp said he looks forward to clarifying Boston South’s proposal at a public meeting on May 11 at Plymouth Memorial Hall. It will be the first of “an extensive series of open forums which will provide guidance to our development team,” a statement from the developer read.

“We know that there are a lot of people that are concerned about it,” said Tripp, who added that he has been knocking on doors with neighbors to hear their perspectives. “We hope to alleviate as much of that as possible through this process. It’s not us forcing anything on anyone; it’s us exploring the opportunities and seeing what the town wants.”

Plymouth County residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on the development at a May 9 public hearing with the county commissioners from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at their office at 44 Obery St. in Plymouth.

And Plymouth’s May 21 town election will include a nonbinding ballot question asking residents whether they support a “development project that includes a thoroughbred horse racetrack in Plymouth.”


Annie Probert can be reached at annie.probert@globe.com.