Selectmen vote to hold a Dec. 19 Special Town Meeting

Nov 10, 2020

Prompted by the developer who is seeking to build a casino and racetrack in Wareham, Selectmen voted on Tuesday to hold a special Town Meeting on Dec. 19. At the meeting, voters may tackle the developer’s proposed zoning change and, potentially, trash management and further recreational development at the Westfield property in West Wareham.

Whether the special Town Meeting meeting will actually happen seems to be anyone’s guess.

“Looking at what we’re seeing for covid numbers and everything else, the likelihood of this going forward in December is slim,” Selectman Peter Teitelbaum said, while voting to hold the special meeting.

The town’s fall Town Meeting has already been postponed until Dec. 28 because of covid concerns. 

The Quincy-based Notos Group unveiled plans in August of 2019 for a development to be called Wareham Park on a 275-acre parcel of land on Glen Charlie Road and abutting Route 25 in East Wareham. The project was to include a casino, horse-racing track and sports facility.

From the beginning, the developers acknowledged two hurdles: Wareham zoning that currently does not allow for commercial or industrial use of the land and the state gaming law that does not currently allow for licensing of the facility proposed by Notos. 

With the state hurdle remaining, it is unclear whether the zoning change now sought by Notos is intended to enable Wareham Park or to enable another development on the land. When Notos first publically approached Selectmen about a special Town Meeting, the group’s representative was close-mouthed about specific plans, saying only that speedy town rezoning was needed because of pending contracts and partnerships.

The proposal that the Notos Group has developed to put before Town Meeting would allow for many kinds of commercial mixed-use development on the land for which Wareham Park has been proposed. It would create a “Hospitality, Recreation, and Entertainment District,” allowing only projects with a minimum lot size of 100 acres.

In voting to hold the Dec. 19 Town Meeting, Selectmen noted that two other issues may be added to the agenda: A bylaw change to allow the town to offer an exclusive town-wide contract for curbside trash pick-up and a project to further develop the Westfield athletic fields off Charlotte Furnace Road in West Wareham.

Town officials are racing against the clock to provide residents with a trash-disposal solution when the regional waste district essentially closes up shop at the end of the year. They seem to have reached an agreement that would keep the Route 28 transfer station open under town operation (See story, Page 1.) but are seeking to also offer curbside pickup.

Selectmen did not share details of the Westfield proposal, but noted that it would be a use similar to the current fields maintained by Wareham Youth Soccer and Wareham Girls Softball. Representatives from the Wareham Tigers youth football and cheerleading program attended the Selectmen’s meeting, but did not speak.

Selectmen Teitelbaum, Patrick Tropeano, and Alan Slavin voted in favor of holding the Dec. 19 special Town Meeting, while Jim Munise voted against it. Judith Whiteside voted “present.”

Teitelbaum emphasized that the final decision about when and where the meeting would be held would be up to Town Moderator Claire Smith.

It was Smith who made the decision earlier this fall to delay the planned Oct. 26 Town Meeting to Dec. 28 to allow socially distanced use of school facilities while students are on their holiday break.

Selectmen discussed holding the special Town Meeting in tandem with the regular fall meeting. That would be legal and is often done, but officials expressed concern about tackling a raft of controversial issues at the already unconventional Dec. 28 gathering.

If the Notos Group were to continue with its proposed casino and racetrack, there would be local and state hurdles even after a zoning change.

At present, the state Gaming Commission is authorized to license one large, full-service casino for the region that includes Wareham. The Wareham Park plans include slot machines but not table games and do not meet the state’s minimum investment threshold for that one casino.

A bill that would allow the Gaming Commission to select a smaller facility as the recipient of the one regional license has been largely stalled in committee.

Even if that bill were to pass, state law requires that any casino be approved by a townwide referendum. Thus a majority of Wareham voters would need to vote in favor of the project on a ballot for it to go forward.