Foxborough residents air concerns on casino

A majority of the Foxborough Board of Selectmen tonight turned back an attempt to kill a proposed Route 1 casino before residents have taken measure of the details.

By a 3-2 vote, the board set a Jan. 10 public hearing to invite casino developer Steve Wynn to present his vision to build a casino on land owned by the Patriots’ Robert Kraft. A minority of the board had sought to terminate any more debate, saying a casino wouldn’t fit in Foxborough.

Town Manager Kevin Paicos distributed a memo to selectmen outlining his case against going any further with the casino proposal.

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“The casino would come at the expense of good community relations, friends opposeing friends, neighbors opposing neighbors. Our town would have more money, but our sense of community would be fragmented for many years to come,’’ Paicos said. “Money must never be viewed as more important than community.’’

In the end, the majority of the board said the public should hear what is being proposed. Some kind of public vote, perhaps a non binding referendum, could quickly follow next month’s hearing, said Larry Harrington, chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Last night’s meeting at Foxborough High School drew hundreds of opponents, but also a contingent of pro-casino demonstrators from trade unions, who cautioned against a rush to judgment on the casino plan for Foxborough before residents have any details on what is to be proposed. The crowd booed when one selectwoman suggested that the issue be tabled and the meeting take place on Jan. 18.

Selectmen Mark Sullivan, chastising the boisterous crowd, said “don’t you at least want to hear what the opportunities are for this community? How some of you are reacting is embarrassing and it saddens me.’’

“I wish this proposal had never come to us, I really do,’’ Sullivan said.

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The same board voted 5-0 in September to not support casino gambling in town. ’’Nothing has changed,’’ said selectwoman Lorraine Brue.

But that vote was taken before Kraft and Wynn publicly disclosed their plans.

Wynn hopes to lease about 200 acres across from Gillette Stadium that Kraft currently uses for event parking. He has said gaming is a small part of the proposal that features a resort hotel, spa, and entertainment space. Kraft is banned by the National Football League from owning a casino interest.

To further his cause, Wynn papered the town with 8,000 letters Monday spelling out his vision and promising the development would create thousands of jobs.

“I can appreciate that some residents are fearful when they hear the word ‘casino,’ ’’ Wynn wrote. But he insisted that his primary business is not casino gambling, but developing “exemplary hotels.’’

To move forward, the proposal would need approval from Foxborough selectmen and the community as a whole. Last week, the Foxborough Planning Board voted to put off two key zoning changes needed for the casino. Kraft and Wynn Both men have said they will drop the idea and move on if the answer is “no.’’

Opposition groups formed early on, creating a Facebook page called “No Fox-Vegas’’ and the website www.nofoxborocasino.com where people can sign a petition and see links related to gambling. Opponents have staged protests and barraged town officials with calls and emails demanding they reject the deal.

A number of residents say they are already buried under Gillette Stadium traffic on game and event days and fear elevated crime and other ills will ruin Foxborough’s small-town feel.

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Danny Flynn, a Foxboro resident and union carpenter, demonstrated in favor of the casino project outside tonight’s hearing. “We’re trying to make sure the people of Foxborough get a chance to vote on this project,’’ he said “What we’re seeing now is a rush to judgment.’’

But several residents said they wanted more information.

“I want to get more information, but I am torn between the idea of hearing what Wynn as to say and knowing that hte process is going to drag on for weeks and months,’’ said Bob Foster, a Foxborough resident.

A Kraft official said tonight the group would continue to move forward.

“We’re giving what we believe is a great proposal to the town, which has always asked us to bring forward special opportunities. Now we’re working through the process,’’ said Dan Krantz, a vice president of the Kraft Group.

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