By Dustin Luca
---- — Tewksbury residents stopped a proposed casino dead in its tracks Tuesday night when it rejected a zoning pitch that would have allowed for a slots-only parlor to be built on Ames Pond Drive, just over the town line from Andover.
The proposal has been a hot-button issue throughout the region since news of the plans went public in July.
Tewksbury residents’ decision to reject the notion of a casino — and the millions of dollars that would have come with it — came as a relief for many Andover homeowners worried about how the proposed $200 million development would have affected not only their property values, but the character of their community.
The rezoning proposal won just less than 40 percent support from Tewksbury Town Meeting voters, which rejected the warrant article by a 1,568-995 vote. A two-thirds majority vote — or support from 1,709 voters — was needed to pass the proposal. Tewksbury town officials said the turnout was a record-setting one for the deliberative body.
The opponents spoke the loudest, ultimately sending Penn National Gaming home and reducing the number of candidates for the state’s sole slots-only gaming license to three.
Penn National said its next move will be to “go back and regroup.”
“Our involvement in Tewksbury ended tonight in a very loud and clear decision by the voters,” Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs for Penn National, said. “We respect that and we’ll be looking for other opportunities for our company.”
Andover Board of Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli joined other officials in his town in expressing relief at the vote, which he watched play out from a non-voter section at Tewksbury High School.
Now, with the prospect of a casino on the town line having run its course, Vispoli said he’s looking to the future.
“We look forward to working with Tewksbury on larger, regional issues such as the I-93 interchange and matters that affect all of us,” he said.
Like the Youth Center vote at Andover Special Town Meeting two years ago, Tewksbury’s Special Town Meeting Tuesday night was delayed by an unexpectedly large turnout. The meeting started more than half an hour later than scheduled as two satellite voting sections had to be established at the high school to give every resident who turned out a chance to participate.
Andover Planning Board member Lelani Loder said she was impressed by the turnout.
“We need to have voter turnout like this,” she said. “It shouldn’t take a casino to get voters to turn out.”