Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Plainville Feeling Foxboro's Hand In Pocket

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on March 4, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

Mitigation – it’s a word being tossed around quite a bit recently in terms of what area towns may expect if the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville is awarded the highly sought after slot machine license in Massachusetts.

According to Dictionary.com the word “mitigation” is defined in the following way:

1. The act of mitigating, or lessening the force or intensity of something unpleasant, as wrath, pain, grief, or extreme circumstances: Social support is the most important factor in the mitigation of stress among adolescents. 2. The act of making a condition or consequence less severe: the mitigation of a punishment.

In this instance mitigation is being used to describe what could be done to compensate area communities for the “impact” locating a gambling facility of this type might have on them in various ways. The town discussing it most right now is Foxboro, with selectmen recently having state gaming officials visit to explain how they can benefit.

Selectman Chairman Jim DeVellis said, "This is not an adversarial position, but rather an opportunity for the developer to work with Foxboro so their application is complete and comprehensive when it reaches the commission for their review."

That’s a nice way of putting it, but seems disingenuous at best. It sounds much more like Foxboro is trying to put itself in a position to either oppose Plainville’s project or benefit from it in ways not possible if this were any other kind of development. And that seems – well, a tad selfish.

The traffic generated by the proposed slot house in Plainville is dwarfed by the traffic generated by Patriot Place throughout the year – forget the traffic which occurs during Patriots game days and other stadium events. Plainridge is located on Route One, right at the intersection of Interstate 495. While some small roads in Foxboro could see some increase, it is difficult to imagine an overwhelming influx of new cars.

Did Foxboro offer Plainville “mitigation” when Patriot Place opened? Or when the stadium opened, for that matter? Perhaps they did, but I don’t recall it. It is interesting Foxboro seems to expect it now. DeVellis said, “At the end of the day there is going to be one slot house in the state so [Plainridge's] study is saying they’re going to be pulling business from everywhere and if they’re starting to pull business from Patriot Place then I think that’s another impact.”

Really? Is Plainville and Plainridge supposed to protect Foxboro from allegedly losing some business at Patriot Place? Did Foxboro “mitigate” any loss of business other local shopping centers had when Patriot Place opened? Or is this strictly a one-way street?

Another recent statement made by the Foxboro selectmen chair was regarding the impact of having a slots gambling facility located close to town. “I think it was said well at the meeting by someone that if one of our kids is more prone to gamble in the future because they abut a slothouse, that is a real impact," DeVellis related.

This is a bit confusing, coming from a community that for decades was home to one of the state’s premier harness racing tracks – which is exactly what Plainridge is today. Foxboro Raceway stood at the current stadium site for many years, and Foxboro happily accepted the revenue it provided. Now a similar operation with the addition of slot machines, which is scheduled to generate no income for Foxboro, is somehow a moral threat to the community? How convenient.

Plainville Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes said he is wary area communities may “seize on an opportunity they would not have in other circumstances” to grab some “mitigation” cash. He stressed he was not saying this was what Foxboro officials were doing. Others – like me – are not quite so sure that isn’t the case.

Like Foxboro, Plainville officials were presented with a unique revenue and business proposition. Unlike Foxboro officials, they chose to listen to the opportunity and allow their voters to make an informed final decision. Foxboro should make their concerns known to their Plainville neighbors, then butt out and let Plainville voters have their say.

The eyes of Foxboro may well be upon Plainville, but the hands of Foxboro should – for now - stay out of Plainville’s pockets.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.


Trent Sherwood said...

This is a relatively simplistic opinion regarding a rather complex proposal. Without putting all of the negative elements (or adverse by-products, if you prefer) that a proposed gaming facility will create on the table, it seems shallow to criticize a town for following the stipulations of the commonwealth's gaming act. We have heard all of these other elements, beyond mere traffic increase, many times over the past fifteen months: 1) increased incidents of drinking and driving, 2) increased crime rate, 3) increased gambling addictions, etc. The state legislature understood these concerns and, accordingly, established the requirement for the host community (and casino developer) to provide for mitigation for the surrounding communities. It would be irresponsible for the BoS not to seek out mitigation. Bill, you are an astute and knowledgeable man, particularly in the area of town politics. But I am afraid you missed the mark on this one.

Bill Gouveia said...

Trent, I appreciate and respect your comments and opinion. But in the words of your selectman chair, Foxboro is at least partially looking for "mitigation" because of "lost business" in various establishments. That is just wrong.

I find it amusing that the town which for four decades or more hosted a racetrack and gladly took the income it provided now wants "mitigation" because an already-existing track down the road will have slot machines and some will be tempted to gamble. Please.

I will stick to my opinion on this one, as I am sure you will too. No harm in that. But this is more than just trying to address problems caused by an unusual development.