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Foxborough Now The Final Battleground For Patriots
Several Town Approvals Needed So Kraft Can Build A New Stadium By Old Site
By Robert Preer, Globe Correspondent, 06/06/99
FOXBOROUGH -- The final round in the fight to keep the New England Patriots in Massachusetts may have ended on Beacon Hill, but in Foxborough it is just beginning.
A series of town approvals is needed over the next two months if the plans for a new stadium are to go forward. These include rezoning of the site, a new lease agreement with team owner Robert Kraft, and a land swap between the team and the town. Also, approval from the town's Industrial Finance Authority is required before bonds can be issued for construction of new roads and other infrastructure improvements.
Town leaders fought for months to keep the National Football League franchise in Foxborough, and most applauded last month when legislative leaders and Governor A. Paul Cellucci finally agreed to legislation for a new stadium, which Kraft hopes to open by 2001. But now, local officials insist they will not simply rubber stamp the team's plans.
"This is going to go on for awhile,'' said state Senator Jo Ann Sprague, a Walpole Republican who represents Foxborough and 10 other towns. "The Patriots want to be here, and we want them, but we want to protect our rights and our quality of life.''
Town administrator Andrew A. Gala Jr. said it is too early to evaluate the prospects of a stadium deal. "There will be public hearings and meetings before a final vote is taken,'' he said.
Perhaps the most difficult hurdle for the team and its boosters will be getting the approval of Foxborough Town Meeting, which is expected to be held in July. Some of the provisions the Patriots are seeking -- including the rezoning of Route 1 near the stadium -- will require a two-thirds majority on Town Meeting floor.
Open town meetings, at which every registered voter who attends may vote, are notoriously unpredictable. Turnout is typically low -- usually less than 10 percent of registered voters -- and could be especially low in July, when many people are away on vacation. Meetings with low turnout often can be controlled by small but well-organized groups.
The stadium plans have alarmed two groups in Foxborough -- residents of a mobile home park that would need to be moved to make way for the stadium complex and residents of the North Street area, where a new access road is planned. Kraft was scheduled to meet with the mobile home owners and their attorney last week. Other meetings are scheduled with North Street residents and officials of Rizzo Associates, Kraft's engineering firm, which is designing access roads to the new stadium.
The Patriots also may have to satisfy some of the demands of South Walpole residents, who live near the stadium and are affected by noise and traffic from games and concerts.
Although Walpole has no direct say in approving the stadium, the town does control a sewer line that could link the stadium to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority regional sewer system.
"The sewer connection is our leverage,'' said Sprague.
The Patriots have not stated how they plan to provide sewer service to the stadium. If the facility is not connected to the MWRA, a sewage treatment plant for the stadium would be the most likely option.
Sprague said she hopes the issues can be settled through negotiations.
"What we are hoping is that within the time frame that we have, we can resolve all of the problems to the satisfaction of the citizens of Foxborough and Walpole,'' Sprague said.
The bill approved last month by the Legislature provides only the broad outlines of the new stadium complex. Kraft is required under the legislation to provide detailed plans later this month.
The final plans need to be approved by Foxborough officials and state Secretary of Administration and Finance Andrew Natsios, under the terms of the bill.
Joe Landolfi, a spokesman for Natsios, said talks have begun. "We've hit the ground running,'' Landolfi said. "We are holding weekly meetings with the town of Foxborough and representatives of the Kraft organization.''
The new stadium would be just south of the existing facility. The state has agreed to provide $70 million for infrastructure improvements, including a small network of access roads within the 325-acre development site. Two "flyover'' entrance ramps would be built on Route 1, north and south of the stadium, allowing traffic to turn left into parking areas without stopping traffic on the highway.
Much of the language in the legislation is vague. It allows spending to provide sewer service but does not state how that would be accomplished. The bill also refers to possible public transportation improvements, including commuter rail service, but omits any details.
Foxborough does not have a commuter rail station. A rail spur from the Attleboro rail line now operates one train to Foxboro Stadium on days of Patriots games.
Kraft also has not stated what other things would be built on the site besides the stadium. In the past, he has discussed building offices, stores, and an NFL theme park, according to Foxborough town planner Timothy Higgins.
Higgins has been meeting with team representatives and state officials on development of the site and needed zoning changes. "It is moving along well,'' said Higgins.
Foxborough officials and local business leaders have viewed the new stadium as a potential catalyst for development on Route 1.
"We would like all of Route 1 to share in the benefits,'' said Higgins.
Doug Wynne, president of the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce, said, "There will be spinoff benefits from the stadium throughout the area. We want the stadium built on time. It will benefit everyone.''
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