Explain this to me. It’s OK for Somerville to have the Assembly Row complex on the Mystic River that draws close to an average of 24,000 cars on weekdays.
But when Steve Wynn wants to build a casino next door in Everett, which would create roughly the same amount of traffic on the weekends, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone throws a fit.
The mayor’s latest gambit is filing a legal claim last week challenging the state’s issuance of a key environmental permit. The argument: The casino is too big and would generate too much traffic that is harmful to the waterfront and the good people of Somerville.
It’s a ridiculous claim considering that the 5.7 million square feet planned at the work-live-play Assembly Row development in Somerville would be nearly twice as big as the Wynn casino. And the city wants even more growth in the Assembly Square area under a massive expansion being sketched out.
We’ve known for a long time that Curtatone doesn’t like a casino in his backyard or legalized gambling in general. He worked hard, unsuccessfully, to repeal the state’s casino law. And, like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, he has gone to court to try to stop Wynn.
But now this seems like a case of city rivalry, and Somerville can’t stand that Everett is finally getting in on the action. Exacerbating the situation is that the $1.7 billion casino is so close to Assembly Row it might just threaten Somerville’s economic crown jewel.
Curtatone tells me his motives are nothing but pure and simple.
“This is not about money. This is not about politics. This is not about traffic and inconvenience,” he said. “This is about the consequences to our environment and to our public health.”
The Somerville mayor also says it’s not even about fighting legalized gambling. He concedes that battle is lost. And it’s not even about whether he gets along with Wynn, the famously mercurial Las Vegas mogul who got into a he-said, he-said spat with the Boston mayor.
“This is not a knock against Steve Wynn,” said Curtatone. “If I wanted to build a casino, I would want Steve Wynn to do it.”
Last month Walsh kissed and made up with Wynn, striking a deal to drop all legal efforts to stop the casino in exchange for Boston getting a richer package to offset the traffic and other problems a gambling palace can cause.
If Curtatone just wants to be heard, he has caught Wynn’s attention. The casino company had started the $30 million cleanup of the contaminated Monsanto site, where it is building its casino, but must drop its shovels until the appeal is done. It’s a move that could delay the project by six months or more, at a cost Wynn puts at $55 million a month in lost taxes, payrolls, and spending on goods and services.
Call up Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, and he surprisingly doesn’t sound mad at Curtatone. They’ve known each other since they were teenagers, two ambitious Italian-American kids growing up in neighboring towns.
DeMaria describes their relationship as “good before, and it’s still good now.”
But he doesn’t think Curtatone knows about all the good that will come with casino money. Wynn is subsidizing the Orange Line, cleaning up the environment, and building a harbor walk, a bike path, and a public park.
“I know Joe is passionate about those issues,” said DeMaria. “He loves cleaning up sites. He loves bike paths. I think he’s protecting his interests at Assembly Row.”
Rather than harming the waterfront, DeMaria believes Wynn is opening up the Mystic River to the people of Everett.
“Here’s a private developer restoring access to the waterfront,” said DeMaria. “I am 42, and I have never been able to walk to the waterfront in Everett.”
DeMaria said he supported Assembly Row and the Green Line extension that would largely benefit Somerville.
“I someday hoped it would be Everett’s turn,” said DeMaria.
So is the region big enough for both Somerville and Everett to have their megaprojects? Or would everything grind to a halt with a new influx of casinogoers, shoppers, and employees driving through Sullivan Square, Interstate 93, and Route 28?
To find out, I went to Eric Bourassa, the transportation guru at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a public agency that seeks to promote responsible growth.
“The solution is not to say, ‘Stop, we’re not going to grow,’ ” said Bourassa. “We need to do regional planning.”
It sounds mundane — and self-serving, for a regional planning agency — but that’s exactly what is needed at an unprecedented level, with leaders from nearby communities coming together to figure it out. The state gets that, which is why, when issuing a permit to allow Wynn to break ground, it set up a transportation planning group.
The MAPC will help staff that effort, and the answer, Bourassa said, is to manage traffic by putting policies in place that encourage people to take public transportation. For example, companies can offer employees discounted T passes, or developers can build fewer parking spaces, forcing people to find alternatives to driving.
“At the end of the day, the casino is just a big entertainment site,” said Bourassa. “We’re happier to see the concentration of development here than somewhere far out with no public transit connections.”
So let’s get on with it. Curtatone, DeMaria, and Wynn should break bread at one of the fine restaurants at Assembly Row and broker a peace agreement.
It’s possible for both Somerville and Everett to hit the jackpot on economic growth.Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @leung.