SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 6, 2013

Danvers residents win few answers

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — About 50 residents, many from the River Run condominiums, packed the selectmen’s hearing room in Town Hall last night looking for answers to a proposed slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall.

They came away with few answers other than that casino developer representatives will meet with selectmen individually or in pairs behind closed doors today so the board can learn more. There may be a public meeting on March 5, if, as Town Manager Wayne Marquis said, the Cordish Companies is still interested in Danvers.

Kimberly Donahue, a trustee of the development off and on for 20 years, said residents of the 127-condo community were upset because they feel that the development has been encroached on from all sides, including from trees that were cut with the reconstruction of the High Street interchange and Route 128, and a cell tower situated on mall property not far from residences.

“You have to understand, we have been through a number of situations, not the least of which was the cellphone tower, and we’ve had the highway and we’ve had the lack of vegetation along the highway. We’ve been made, or given a lot of promises in the past,” Donahue said after the meeting. “And, in some cases, with all the best of intentions, those promises have not been fulfilled. So, we represent just a small fraction of the concern, not just in the River Run community, but the adjacent neighborhoods as well.”

Traffic is a major concern if a slots parlor with up to 1,250 slots would be situated at the mall, and so are some quality of life issues.

“When you live there and you understand the access in and out, you understand it (the traffic) would be like two days before Christmas. And, to have the ambient light from 24-7 slot machines, and then you look at the kind of transient population that is going to be coming in and going out of there, we are going to need a lot more police officers, we are going to need a lot more vigilance. There’s just a whole host of situations that have concerns, really.”

Last night’s meeting did not have a slots parlor discussion on the selectmen’s agenda, but it was standing room only for those seeking more information.

However, as is custom, the board took up the new business.

On hand was an aide to state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, former School Committee member Bill Bates, who said that the state is at the first stage of the process to investigate applicant. State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, also commented on the proposal.

“I, too, was appearing just to listen to the slots license proposal,” said Lovely, who reminded the audience both at Town Hall and watching on cable: “It’s really the voters that will have the last say at the ballot box, whether you want this in your community or not.”

Selectmen Chairman Bill Clark said no one on the board has received any hard information, and the board was just doing its due diligence to learn more. Clark said board members would meet individually or in pairs with Cordish representatives to avoid violating the state’s open meeting laws.

“At that time,” Clark said, “we are hoping to get information ourselves so we can come back to you on the fifth of March and have an open discussion, have an open meeting, and let people speak their will.”

“Any information you have on that, we would like to hear it tonight,” said River Run trustee David Joyce, who said the condos were having their annual meeting tomorrow night.

“We have no information to give tonight,” said Selectman Gardner Trask, who said the board had not received anything in writing from Cordish, which submitted its proposal to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as PPE Casino Resorts, LLC, and that it was undecided as to location and type of license, though town officials say they were approached about the idea of a slots parlor.

Marquis summarized his contact with the real estate developer, Maryland-based Cordish, which started on Jan. 10 with a phone call from a Joseph Weinberg, president of the gaming/lodging division of Cordish, according to the company’s website. The closest casino to the Bay State that Cordish has developed is Maryland Live!, which is adjacent to the Arundel Mall, which is owned by the Simon Property Group, Marquis said.

Danvers is one of two locations Cordish is scouting for a slots-only, category 2 license with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Marquis said. The other is not known to Marquis, other than it is not on the North Shore. The state is only approving one slots parlor statewide, to be issued by the end of this year.

“Mr. Weinberg indicated they have certainly not made a decision on Danvers,” said Marquis, who said he has nothing written from Cordish or from the mall.

Once a community is identified as a host of a casino, the two parties have to hammer out a host agreement that would look at infrastructure improvements and other mitigation. Host communities of casinos are eligible for state grants to help with technical aspects of siting these developments, Marquis said. Once an agreement is signed, voters would get to vote on the host agreement, at least 60 days and no more than 90 days, after the agreement is signed.

“If the community says ‘no,’ that’s the end of it,” said Marquis, who said there is a process where a community could come back 180 days later, but Marquis said that seems highly unlikely.

“If a community says ‘yes,’” Marquis said, “that doesn’t guarantee a license” with the Gaming Commission. Marquis could not say when a vote might take place as the due diligence process could take time.

Paul Pawlak, Precinct 4 Town Meeting member, suggested that if the meeting goes forward on March 5, the board will need to find a bigger room in which to hold it due to the amount of public interest. Clark said residents should have ample opportunities to sound off on the proposal.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.