Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

August 29, 2013

File closed on neighboring casino plan

By Bill Kirk

---- — Sometime in the future, someone will pull a document from a shelf in the town manager’s office, blow the dust off it and ask, “What was this all about?”

The Andover Action Plan on the proposed Tewksbury casino had grown significantly since Penn National Gaming swept into the neighboring community in early July, intent on building a $200 million, slots-only casino right near the town border.

But last week, the hopes of the company were dashed when Tewksbury Town Meeting voters resoundingly rejected the casino proposal.

When Andover selectmen met last Wednesday, Aug. 21, the night following the Tewksbury vote, an agenda item calling for an “update on Tewksbury slots parlor proposal” wall all but a moot point.

The weekly packet that goes out to selectmen with the agenda had included a 13-page plan and supporting documents devoted exclusively to the casino and what Andover was going to do about it.

The plan included discussion of the proposed casino’s impact on utilities, traffic, crime, property values, downtown businesses and the environment, among other considerations.

Action items included meetings with the Department of Public Works, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, traffic consultants and Tewksbury town officials and even drop-in visits to Penn National Gaming, the Pennsylvania company behind the proposal.

Selectmen and other town officials said fortunately, the plan can now be shelved.

“Our team put together a plan to get ready,” selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said. “We were doing our homework behind the scenes. I’m just glad we don’t have to use the plan. That can be filed away in (the town manager’s) office.”

The work of selectmen and town officials did not go unnoticed last week. John Pasquale, a local resident who attends nearly every selectman’s meeting, gave them a standing ovation.

“I was proud of you all,” he told selectmen as he stood up and clapped loudly, much to the amusement of the handful of people sitting in the third-floor meeting room at Town Hall and probably to the viewers at home.

Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski said that if the casino vote had passed, the issue would have continued to consume the time of staff and elected officials alike.

Members of the planning staff, as well as police and fire officials, along with town counsel, Conservation Commission director and many others had spent countless hours in meetings preparing for the casino.

Vispoli said Friday that the vote was “a good demonstration of why open Town Meeting works. All the boards and committees in Tewksbury had voted to recommend in favor of (the casino), including the town manager.”

But Town Meeting members, who had to be registered voters in Tewksbury, saw things differently, voting 1,568 to 995 against the proposal to rezone property off Ames Pond Road to accommodate the casino. To pass, the zoning amendment needed two-thirds majority support.

One outstanding detail following the Town Meeting vote now appears to be resolved. Part of the process for approval of the casino included a town-wide vote in Tewksbury. After the rezoning proposal failed, Penn National Gaming sent a letter to Tewksbury officials telling them to cancel the town-wide referendum that was scheduled for Sept. 21.

Last Friday, Tewksbury selectmen voted unanimously to call off that town-wide vote. However, since the state had already scheduled the election, it’s unclear what impact the selectmen’s decision will have.

Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori told the Lowell Sun last Friday that no statutes exist to guide whether a posted referendum can be canceled in this situation, but he expected no challenges to the decision.