Protesters argue against zoning, for preservation
With the Notos Group’s proposed “Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment District” up for a vote at the April 10 Special Town Meeting in just two weeks, local organizers who oppose rezoning the district are taking action.
An online petition against developing the land, which was started when the Notos Group first proposed its racetrack and casino, is circulating once again and has surpassed 1,200 signatures. “Vote No Re-zoning” yard signs are being distributed. Weekend standouts have been planned at locations all around town.
The first standouts were held on Saturday, March 27 from 9 a.m. to noon. Organizers gathered outside Town Hall and Wareham post offices to raise awareness about the rezoning proposal and to encourage people to register and vote at Town Meeting.
A small crowd of protestors outside Town Hall reported lots of positive feedback from drivers: Honked horns, waves and thumbs up.
Most, including representatives of the Wareham Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, the Community Land and Water Coalition and interested citizens, said they were there primarily to protect the environment.
Land Trust President Kathy Pappalardo said that protecting the land is integral to protecting the area’s water supply and staving off climate change. Pappalardo explained that the environment naturally filters water and allows it to refill the aquifer — a process she said would be stymied by large-scale development and paving.
Additionally, she said, trees are “the best help we have” to fight climate change. The trees absorb carbon monoxide, release oxygen, and provide a multitude of other benefits to the ecosystem.
Meg Sheehan of the Community Land and Water Coalition said she was not convinced by some officials’ claims that the town’s existing bylaws and boards would ensure that the land was not harmed by development. Sheehan said that the tires and litter strewn across the site, cited by Selectman Patrick Tropeano as a reason to approve development, are proof that the town does not enforce its existing environmental protections.
Erin Bates said she got invested in fighting the proposed rezoning after she visited the public lands within and around the district and saw how beautiful the land was. She said it’s vital to preserve those resources.
Although she never really planned on leading the charge, Wareham resident Diane Kenney has become a central part of the opposition to the Notos Group’s proposal. She immediately disliked the Notos Group’s plans for a racino when she discovered the development would have been about 1 mile from the dream home she’d just moved into.
“I moved to this area because it is not developed,” she said. “It’s a very quiet area, very woodsy, which is just what I wanted. I live on a dirt road. I love it all.”
Kenney said she was concerned about the idea of a casino being “plopped down in the middle of a neighborhood,” and she didn’t love the idea of a racetrack either. Increased road congestion was also a factor — traffic on Glen Charlie Road was “just horrible already,” she said.
So, she joined the opposition movement.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Kenney said. In the beginning, she said she would tell people she was “being very selfish” because she was opposing the rezoning to avoid having a large-scale development in her neighborhood.
But she said she soon learned that the district was in close proximity to both Wareham and Onset’s aquifers. She also discovered that developing the area in the district could harm local wildlife or negatively affect the Pine Barrens ecosystems, which are rare.
“Now, I feel like it’s much bigger than [my neighborhood] — I’m not maybe as selfish as I thought,” Kenney said.
Kenney is the administrator for the “April 10th vote NO to Notos” Facebook group. The group currently has 781 members, and it has been used to plan much of the coordinated effort to oppose the district, including the standouts.
The standouts, Kenney explained, had multiple purposes:
- Raising awareness about the issue and distributing fact sheets about the Notos Group’s proposal
- Encouraging people to check their voter registration status and/or register to vote
- Encouraging people to attend Town Meeting on April 10 to vote “no” on the rezoning proposal
“Town Meeting, historically, has had low turnouts, and we would like everyone who’s invested in this issue to go to Town Meeting,” Kenney said.
She said Wareham residents will make the decision, in the end.
“If, ultimately, it comes down to it that we lose, then that’s the will of the people,” Kenney said. “Although, I would be heartbroken.”
The “Hospitality, Entertainment and Recreation District” would rezone about 750 acres of land in East Wareham between Glen Charlie Road and Rte. 25. The zoning is designed to encourage large-scale mixed-use development.
The Notos Group, who helped craft the zoning proposal, pitched building a horse racing track and casino on a parcel of land on Glen Charlie Road back in 2019 — a proposal that seems to have been dropped, although the company has undisclosed plans in-the-works for the new district, if it is approved.
A previous version of the proposal was set to encompass about one quarter of the town’s landmass, including the roughly 275-acre property on which the Notos Group had hoped to build its “racino.”
The district would allow a variety of uses including hotels, conference centers, multiple family dwellings, hospitals and riding stables. All projects would have to include an “indoor and/or outdoor commercial recreation facility or place of amusement and residential uses.”
The district still requires projects on at least 100-acre parcels and would require all proposals to go through a special permit process with the Planning Board, which gives the town a fair amount of say about what is built.
Currently, the land is zoned only for single-family homes on several acre lots.