Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

August 15, 2013

A tale of two towns divided

The Andover Townsman

---- — You could call it the great divide. Take a ride along Route 133 toward Tewksbury and it’s easy to see where one community ends and the next begins.

On the Andover side, life is altogether residential and rural. Neighborhoods spill off the main road. People settle here to raise their families in a truly suburban environment that still affords workday commuters the benefits and ease that come with being a stone’s throw from Interstates 495 and 93.

Right at the town line is the exclusive Jordyn Lane community. Built in the last 10 to 15 years, the well-appointed, million-dollar homes sit on sprawling lots with expertly crafted stone walls and lush, manicured lawns. Nestled into a landscape that still retains its wooded feel, the picturesque setting alongside the quaint Ames Pond is nothing if not bucolic.

Cross the line into Tewksbury and the scene is altogether different. To one side, a massive corporate center spills out across an expanse of land, while a luxury apartment complex blankets the hill overlooking Ames Pond. Continue onward and hotels, filling stations and chain restaurants, both sit-down and fast-food, line the corridor leading to the highways.

Herein lies the heart of the debate over a proposed $200 million, 1,250-slots casino.

From Tewksbury’s perspective, the targeted site on its side of town, at the rear of an already developed office park supporting large corporations, seems to make perfect sense. The Ames Pond Drive location is removed from much of the town’s residential sector. The area was especially designed to support commercial and business growth. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people can travel there daily without ever truly setting foot in Tewksbury or being seen by the majority of its townspeople.

It’s probably one of the factors that attracted Penn National Gaming to the site. But the company, which is no stranger to building full-scale gambling and racing-related facilities across the country, also undoubtedly saw a receptive partner in Tewksbury. The community has been struggling financially in recent years. Municipal services have been cut way back and Proposition 2 1/2 overrides are staring residents already struggling with high property tax bills in the face,

The more than $4 million in annual payments — plus other incentives — Penn National has promised Tewksbury has to be awfully attractive. Having football giant Doug Flutie sign on to open one of his restaurants in the complex only adds to the appeal. As a 320-seat, two-screen, dine-in movie theater was added to the plans this week, more attractions are bound to follow. Who could blame Tewksbury officials for seriously considering rolling out the welcome mat for such a project?

The same can’t be said for the residents of Andover, especially those who live at that edge of town. One would be hard-pressed to argue that the life they’ve grown accustomed to won’t change if a casino is built literally in their backyards.

A lot is at stake next week when Tewksbury residents at a special Town Meeting consider a rezoning proposal necessary for the casino to advance in their community. It’s only the first approval of several Penn National must gain before it can set up shop in Tewksbury. But it’s a key one.

If it was up to Andover, Penn National wouldn’t stand a chance. But there’s a reason Penn pinned its hopes on Tewksbury, not Andover. The gaming company has something to offer Tewksbury that the town couldn’t otherwise get. Despite any perceived negatives, we can imagine it’s a tough offer for Tewksbury to turn its back on. And we’d be hard-pressed to wager a bet on the ultimate outcome.