Milford selectmen vote to sign Foxwoods casino agreement

Milford, Mass. — Selectmen here Wednesday night approved Foxwoods Massachusetts' beefed-up bid to win the Greater Boston casino license, voting 2-1 to sign a "host community agreement" next week with the developers of a $1 billion resort that would be built off Interstate 495.

The chairman of the Board of Selectmen, William Buckley, dissented, as he did a month ago when selectmen voted to begin negotiating the agreement.

"We're very pleased; it's the outcome we wanted," Scott Butera, Foxwoods Resort Casino's president and chief executive officer, said.

When selectmen sign a final version of the agreement Monday night, they also will set the date of a townwide referendum on the project, one of three that would compete for the sole Greater Boston casino license the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is expected to award next year.

Selectmen Dino DeBartolomeis and Brian Murray voted to sign the agreement, saying it was time to put the town's long consideration of the casino proposal before voters.

"If this thing goes forward, the average resident of Milford will see a reduction in their taxes," DeBartolomeis said. "In my opinion, this is a good thing for the town of Milford."

Murray also said it was time to defer to voters.

"I'm ready to sign it," he said of the agreement. "Not to say this is something you ought to do, but to say now you have a choice."

Foxwoods Massachusetts had substantially increased its financial commitment to the town over the last week, offering $34 million in upfront payments and annual payments of more than $31 million, or nearly $1,200 a resident on a per-capita basis. The developer would set aside $2.5 million to establish a "residence impact fund" to compensate homeowners for any loss in the value of homes located near the casino for five years after its opening.

Buckley, whose call for greater "mitigation" payments helped persuade the developers to sweeten their proposal, said the impact fund should be greater.

Buckley also expressed reservations that selectmen were "rushing things — unnecessarily."

But a motion by DeBartolomeis and seconded by Murray was on the table.

"My concern is that I received these documents yesterday, and I have not had time to go through them thoroughly," Buckley said, referring to Foxwoods Massachusetts' latest submissions to the town.

Butera, addressing selectmen and a town hall audience of dozens of residents, outlined the revisions in the project, which he said mainly involved incorporating elements of a planned second phase in the initial phase instead. Examples included increased building heights, additional hotel rooms and more gaming and dining space.

"We didn't change the look or feel of it," said Butera, who noted the project's footprint and proximity to homes was the same as before.

A number of town officials and department heads, some of whom reviewed the changes over the Labor Day weekend, said the revised project would have no greater impact on town services — and in some cases would have less impact.

If voters approve the project in a November referendum, Foxwoods Massachusetts would have to face a town meeting vote on a required zone change for the project. That vote would have to be approved by two-thirds of the elected members of the town meeting, of which there are about 240.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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