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Holliston among towns worried over Milford casino

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / January 29, 2012
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Dozens of residents turned out for a meeting in Holliston last week about a proposed casino in neighboring Milford.

Organized by local officials in Holliston and other nearby towns, the meeting was meant to explain the rights of surrounding communities under the new law legalizing casinos, but it did little to ease concerns about things like declining property values or increasing traffic, some said afterwards.

“How do you mitigate additional drunk drivers?’’ said Holliston resident Ken Rockett after the meeting. “How do you mitigate property values?’’

Mitigation funds and other relief are provided to host and surrounding communities under the law, but unlike the host community, surrounding communities don’t get a vote, despite efforts by local legislators.

“The hope was to get a vote for those communities that would be negatively impacted or those that would touch the site of a casino. Unfortunately we were not able to get that,’’ said state Senator Karen Spilka, who voted against the bill.

Although the vast majority of residents at the meeting were from Holliston, it drew a few from Ashland, Hopkinton, Medway, and Millis.

The plans for the Crossroads Resort in Milford call for an $850 million complex along Interstate 495 in Milford, just over the Holliston town line. It would feature a 176,000-square-foot gaming floor, a 350-room hotel, and 60,000 square feet of restaurants and retail shops. The proposal is competing for a single license in Eastern Massachusetts, with potential rivals including Suffolk Downs in East Boston and a location near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, explained the language in the law meant to protect towns like Holliston.

The state Gaming Commission, which will decide which casino proposals get licenses, is required to consider relative support and opposition from both the host and surrounding communities in making its decision, said Spilka.

Also, surrounding communities can ask the commission to require additional studies, such as a traffic analysis, beyond whatever the developer does initially, and the developer would be required to pay for them, she said.

Developers must sign an agreement with each surrounding community, a process that is supposed to cover problems the nearby towns might face as a result of a casino, and how the developer can help offset them.

And there are protections in the law to ensure that if the developer promises certain mitigation - such as a new highway ramp - the promise is fulfilled before the casino opens, said Spilka.

David Nunes, the developer of the Milford proposal, has said a dedicated ramp system on Interstate 495 would have to be built as part of his project.

But some are still worried that drivers would clog local roads by getting on I-495 at a nearby entrance.

“I just think the increase in traffic is going to ruin the quaint feeling of our town,’’ said Holliston resident Kathy Cheever after the meeting.

During the meeting, David Bastille, who lives in a Holliston neighborhood about a mile from the site of the proposed casino, said those concerned should “cultivate Milford voters.’’

“They’re not here, their selectmen aren’t here, and they’re the ones that are actually going to get to vote,’’ said Bastille, who has printed and distributed yard signs that read “CasiNO.’’

A public outcry erupted in Foxborough recently after details of the Route 1 casino proposal were announced. Likewise, there is organized opposition to the Suffolk Downs proposal.

But Milford residents have been relatively quiet, with public officials expressing openness to the possibility of a casino.

For that reason, Holliston resident Gregg Smalley said he is worried the Milford proposal will have an advantage because it will be seen as the “path of least resistance.’’

John Ribeiro, president of Repeal the Casino Deal and a Winthrop resident, attended the meeting to tell people about his effort.

“There is not one casino state or community that is better off for having added casinos,’’ he said.

Nunes, the developer, said he found out about the meeting only hours before it began and so could not attend, but would have a representative there to listen. A Colorado developer, Nunes worked in Massachusetts previously, most notably on the Watertown Arsenal project.

“We want to hear what people have to say that’s both pro and con about our proposal,’’ he said in a telephone interview.

With Boston politicians sparring over who in the city will get a vote on Suffolk Downs, and Foxborough selectmen voting against the local proposal, Nunes said he is liking his odds.

“I don’t worry about competition that much,’’ he said. “I kind of like being out where I am and biding our time, doing what we do best and working with the community. At the end of the day, this is all about who is the last person standing.’’

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.

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