LANCASTER — Questions and a lot of concerns came from local residents Monday night when they got the chance to address the developers looking to build a thoroughbred horse-racing track on Route 70.
“I don’t see that you have an economically viable plan to make this work,” said local resident Jim Carlson. “What I see is a lot of pie in the sky.”
Carlson’s remarks were met by applause by the standing-room-only crowd gathered at Town Hall.
Much of the community’s response Monday night ran a spectrum of concerns covering the stability of the horse-racing industry, increases in traffic, possible environmental impacts, and effects on surrounding residences.
Conceptual plans submitted to the town by the project’s developers show the track would be part of a larger complex located on a 350-acre parcel located west of Route 70 and accessible by way of McGovern Boulevard.
According to the Southboro-based Capital Group Properties, which is developing the track for the Canadian horse racing company The Stronach Group, only 100 acres of the land will be taken up by the track. The rest will be part of an overall development that could include retail, commercial, industrial, and residential uses.
Tim Ritvo, The Stronach Group’s chief operating officer, addressed residents’ concerns by pointing out the project’s current plans are subject to change.
He said the site could be reconfigured to accommodate environmental issues and that a traffic study will be commissioned to see how the track would impact roads and traffic flow.
He also addressed concerns from some residents who referred to horse racing as a “dying industry.”
“The industry is struggling, it’s flat-lined for the last five years… The Stronach Group at the same time is growing at a 40 percent clip,” he said. “We’ve seen unbelievable growth.”
Ritvo also touted the proposed track’s benefits on the town and area farms. Though unable to give a specific estimate, he said it could likely generate as much as $500,000 in local taxes annually and create “a couple hundred jobs.”
When asked prior to the meeting whether the site could include a casino, or any other gambling outside horse racing in the future, Ritvo said, “I don’t believe so. We’re not even looking at that. We’re just looking at a nice horse-racing track.”
Several in attendance Monday were in favor of the project, including Renee Doyle, owner of the 25-acre Endeavor Farm for horse breeding in Barre.
“Since Suffolk Downs announced they wouldn’t have regular races, I’ve almost been out of business,” she said. “We’ve all been sitting here twiddling our thumbs for the last three years.”
Ken Posco, a horse breeder from Fitchburg, said the track would create valuable job opportunities and praised The Stronach Group.
“This will really open up the breeding industry, but obviously there will be no breeding without a race track,” he said. “You’re dealing with a company that’s the biggest and best in North America.”
Posco’s remarks, like those of many of the project’s opponents, were also met with applause. However, the majority of local residents who spoke at the meeting were opposed
White Pond Road Association President Joe Ramirez, said residents are concerned by the proximity of the track to their neighborhood and how the development could affect water supplies of White Pond Road homes, which he said all use wells.
“If this facility drains the aquifer, we have no water for our homes,” he said.
Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco addressed these concerns, saying “I do think we have to be more cognizant of the folks (on White Pond Road) and provide some sort of buffer.”
Several other local officials present for the meeting were also questioned by the public about their thoughts on the project.
Selectman Mark Grasso declined to say whether he was behind the project but did outline some of the financial benefits to the town, referring to meals tax revenues as one example.
“You also have a community host agreement that would be negotiated with The Stronach Group that would allow us to increase our number of police officers or fire fighters,” he said. “We have a lot of bargaining power.”
Planning Board Chairman Phil Lawler also addressed the crowd, referring to the likelihood of any future development in the area of North Lancaster, not just the horse track.
“This site will be developed,” he said. “We have to ask, is this more beneficial to the town than other possibilities?
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