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Tewksbury adds poll workers, shuttle buses for Tuesday town meeting on casino

Posted by Kathy McCabe  August 19, 2013 02:30 PM

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Tewksbury officials are preparing for a big crowd for Tuesday's Special Town Meeting, where residents will consider new zoning that would allow the $200 million Merrimack Valley Casino to be built on 30 acres of land off Route 133.

Extra poll workers will be on duty to check-in registered voters, starting at 6 p.m., for the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at Tewksbury Memorial High School on Pleasant Street.

"Any registered voter in the town has the ability to vote at our town meeting," Town Clerk Denise Graffeo said on Monday.

Residents will consider a zoning amendment to create the Ames Pond Overlay District, which would cover 30 acres of land now zoned for office/research use at the Ames Pond Corporate Center.

The new zoning would allow Penn National Gaming to apply to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for the one license available to operate a slot parlor in the state.

Penn -- one of four casino companies vying for the license -- has proposed a development that would include a 24-hour slot parlor, a Doug Flutie sports bar, a 2-screen movie theater, a food court, and another unnamed restaurant.

The Board of Selectmen has unanimously approved a host community agreement, which would pay the town anywhere from $3 million to $5 million in annual payments. The finance committee last week voted 4-1 to recommend town meeting approve the new zoning. A two-thirds majority vote at the town meeting will be required for the zoning amendment to be adopted

Still, Penn National's slot proposal has sparked a fierce debate, with rival "vote yes" and "vote no" camps trying to influence the decision. And the intense interest leads Graffeo to believe that the Special Town Meeting will draw the most interest since 2010, when residents approved a temporary tax increase to build a new high school.

"We are definitely planning for a full house," Graffeo said Monday afternoon. "Our plan is to fill the gymnasium to capacity. And, then, if there are still voters coming in, there will be seats in the cafeteria set up. There will be audio, so everyone will be able to hear."

But residents who haven't attended a recent town meeting, or voted in a recent election, or who did not answer the town's annual census likely have fallen off the voter registration rolls. They will have to show identification, and be restored to the active voter list, to be able to participate in Tuesday's meeting, Graffeo said.

"The ID has to have their name and current address," she said. "It doesn't have to have a picture. A utility bill would be fine."

Parking will be scarce at the high school. Parking will not be allowed near the entrance to the high school's lot or on either side of Pleasant Street. Satellite parking will be available at the Town Hall & Annex at 1009 Main St., the Ryan School at 135 Pleasant St. , and the Department of Public Works facility at 999 Whipple St.

Shuttle buses will leave every 15 minutes to bring residents to the high school.

The Special Town Meeting -- where the zoning amendment is the only article on the warrant -- is the first of two local approvals required for Penn's application for a slot parlor to advance to the state gaming commission.

On Sept. 21, a special election will be held, where voters will be asked to approve a ballot question to allow a slot-parlor to locate in their town. The local referendum is a key provision of the state's gambling law.

Jeff Morris, a Penn spokesman, said Monday the firm now is focused solely on winning approval at Town Meeting.

"We are focused on Tuesday night," he said. "We want to make sure residents are fully informed about our plan."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe

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