shelton_webBy William C. Shelton

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and  do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

 The new term for Somerville’s elected officials begins on Monday. It comes at a time of unprecedented real-estate-development opportunities and risks that will shape the city’s character, economics, and fiscal health for generations to come.

Based on extensive community engagement, city staff produced an exemplary Union Square Revitalization Plan in the Spring of 2012. Now that they are prepared to move ahead on it, new controversies have emerged regarding the selection of a single developer for all twelve acres, Union Square’s mix of uses, building heights, the relocation of city hall, and financial risks.

Then, early this month Partners Health Care announced that it would consolidate administrative operations in a new 650,000-to-700,000-square-foot Assembly Square development, to be built on an ambitious schedule. This is fantastic news.

Yes, Partners is a nonprofit organization. But the payments in lieu of taxes that it will generate, the number and range of jobs that it will bring, and the traffic and pollution impacts that it will make are vastly better for all interested parties than are those of the one-story supermarket that was earlier proposed for the site. Or, for that matter, an IKEA. And the development unequivocally establishes Assembly Square as an office destination.

Somervision, the much-praised Comprehensive Plan for the entire city, poses the third development challenge. Its implementation will require rewriting of the zoning code and neighborhood-by-neighborhood designs and objectives for its quantitative goals.

The most immediate development challenge, however, isn’t in Somerville. It’s a hundred yards away, directly across the Mystic River from the Assembly Square Orange Line station site.

Wynn Resorts wants to build a 2.5-million-square-foot casino, hotel, and parking structure there. Everett needs and deserves economic development, and its leaders see the Wynn proposal as an answered prayer. They would receive an initial payment of $30 million, and $25 million in annual property taxes, single-handedly increasing their city’s tax levy by 30%.

But while Everett would receive 100% of the benefits, Medford, Somerville, and Charlestown would bear most of the burdens. Setting aside the morality of this kind of gambling and the wisdom of entitling a giant funnel to extract money from Massachusetts residents and suck it outside the Commonwealth, this is still bad news for Somerville.

The building would rise to almost 400 feet, towering over Assembly Square, with its reflective surface and nighttime illumination beckoning all I-93 travelers. Wynn’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) projects that it would generate 22,000 to 25,000 new vehicle trips per day. Between 80% and 90% of them would be on Routes 28 (McGrath Highway) and 99 (Washington Street).

Wellington Circle is already a choke point for four hours per day. Casino congestion would greatly increase traffic backups along Route 16 in both directions, and on all surrounding arterials.

The development would inevitably diminish Assembly Square’s prospects, devalue its property, and degrade its taxes and jobs potential.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 91 is “the Commonwealth’s primary tool for protection and promotion of public use of its tidelands and other waterways.”  The Wynn proposal violates Chapter 91 on a slew of grounds. So Wynn and Everett intend to end run around Chapter 91 by substituting a Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP).

Such a plan escapes many of the dimensional requirements of Chapter 91, but it requires uses that are  “water dependent,” for example fishing docks, boat building facilities, marinas, and so forth. It’s hard to imagine why a casino would require a waterfront to exist. The proponents might say that they need water access to bring gamblers, but this is a feeble claim. Their DEIR projects that only 3% of trips would be by water, and the competing Casino proposed in Revere has no such requirement.

Neither the DEIR nor the MHP propose mitigations for the casino’s impacts on Medford, Somerville, and Boston, which will all be greater than those on Everett. Nor do they propose substitutions that are anywhere equal to the dimensional requirements that they would avoid with a Municipal Harbor Plan. These “substitutions” are amenities that, in return for suspension of Chapter 91 requirements, the developer must provide to benefit the entire general public of the Commonwealth, not just gamblers, hotel guests, and Everett residents.

Among the affected communities, Mayor Curtatone has been the most outspoken leader in opposition to the Everett casino. In response, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. has whined that Curtatone is hypocritical and is trying to “derail” a project that could “revolutionize” Everett. But DeMaria offered no concessions regarding mitigation of impacts. In fact, he defiantly stated, “Let me be clear: Everett is the sole host community for this development.”

Last Friday the Massachusetts Gaming Commission declared that Wynn Resorts is “suitable” to hold a gambling license. This just means they judge that Wynn has sufficient financial strength and lacks identifiable criminal associations and shady practices. Now Wynn must beat out Mohegan Sun’s proposal for a Revere casino, and win state approval for the Municipal Harbor Plan.

To protect Assembly Square’s potential and Somerville’s best interests, our city’s leaders must be vigilant, effectively seeking to block the casino’s construction or mitigate is impacts at every opportunity.

Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is accepting comments on the DEIR until January 17. It can be obtained at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/b3o665pm3igxu93/ticaiULB4t

 

29 Responses to “Somerville’s development challenges: The casino across the river”

  1. A,Moore says:

    I would venture to say from many I have talked to here in the city that they would be more interested in the casino than the Assembly project. People in Medford were concerned over Assembly and the impact it would have on them by the problems it would create in Wellington. This is a done deal and we will just have to live with it. Like many here in Somerville neither one has anything in it of intrest for us.

  2. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Bill,

    Wynn wants Everett and Everett wants Wynn.
    If you study the demographics of that region, you would know many residents already travel to CT to gamble and they know it.

    National studies prove a casinos only degrade and bring a host of criminal elements to neighborhoods.

    I agree that a casino in Everett is a very bad idea since it will prey upon the already too vulnerable of our communities. I’ve spent time observing at Foxwoods. The free drinks and promotions by email keep them coming back. It’s quite sad that we have not been able to eliminate some of the gross evils of our society. Any form of addiction causes self-destruction, erodes healthy lives and families, a cycle which is hard to break. We will see more crime including drugs, prostitution and divorce. What benefits would we hope to gain? It will never replace what will be lost.

    As far as Partners Health Care becoming a resident of Assembly– we should not be allowing anymore non-profit freeloaders. We already have one giant in Ward 7 who hasn’t stopped taking our property and free services for many decades.

    I see how they could entice a large elder population who would rather not venture into Boston, but I would rather see Google or Microsoft be housed there since we deserve a break in mounting taxes. The corporations pay millions to Cambridge. I don’t see how the residents of our city are benefitting, we pay too much and deserve better.

  3. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    A.Moore,

    I believe what you state is true, but pretty sad considering our only two options for development are not benefiting working class families who need affordable housing. The two alternatives: one which will only cater to bored elders looking for easy money to retire in Florida and immigrants hoping to win it big so they can avoid slave labor and looming threats of deportation.
    The other is geared to lure in the gentrified crowd and to drive out the unwanted who reside in the east side, making way for the developers motives. A soccer field is not in their master plan. A casino and soccer field would not be suitable to the sought after investors.

  4. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    The research is out there:

    “From the perspective of U.S. economic history, the United States has had previous economic cycles with widespread legalized gambling activities. The most relevant cycle occurred after the American Civil War and paralleled the post-bellum migration to the “Wild West.” Although gambling proliferated during this time-frame, within a few years the trend toward prohibiting gambling activities had begun, and by 1910 there was virtually no legal gambling in the United States. Gambling activities were not just prohibited via state statutes and local ordinances, but more importantly, these prohibitions were incorporated into most state constitutions. The fact that state constitutional provisions were utilized to make it as difficult as possible for future generations to legalize gambling activities (and thereby experiment once again with a classic “boom and bust” economic cycle) lends substantial credence to arguments that both historically and currently, the legalization of gambling activities eventually causes: (1) increased taxes, (2) a loss of jobs from the overall region, (3) economic disruption of other businesses, (4) increased crime and (5) large social-welfare costs for society in general and government agencies in particular. For example, two studies of the riverboat casinos in Illinois concluded that for every one job created by the riverboats, most of the surrounding communities probably lost one or more jobs from pre-existing businesses (Grinols 1994; Grinols and Omorov 1995)”.

    http://www.nocasinoerie.org/kindtex.htm

    Instead of creating sustainable jobs which would strengthen our middle class, they do nothing but create scams which further weaken our economy. Similar examples: ENRON, dot-com bubble, hedge funds and mortgage fraud. How many more until the citizens realize they are doing nothing but putting us in continual debt. They blame the people for their addictions but who puts it out there? Who is ultimately responsible? It’s not the people, it is the organizations and benefactors who create these dirty profiteering ventures for the few. The get rich quit schemes are nothing but scams.

  5. Felina Hackett says:

    We are doomed.

  6. A.Moore says:

    I know many that gamble and they do not have a problem with it and enjoy. I suppose the same can be said for alcohol. I don’t do either of these. I am very boring. The people I know go with a set amount of money and for them they have a great time with it. Like anything one can have a problem with it. How far do we go with being a nanny. Same can be said for food, cigarettes and many other things. My wife wants to go to a casino one day just to see what it is like. We have scratch tickets which are probably just as bad and good. I have yet to buy a lottery ticket or scratch ticket. Same thing, some people I know spend just so much on them each week and no more. It’s going to be here somewhere regardless of what we or others want. Personally I would rather have the casino in Assembly than what we are getting stuck there with.

  7. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    A. Moore,

    Gambling occasionally as a form of entertainment is understandable.
    But that’s not what I am debating. Yes, you’re right about everyone should have personal responsibility, but when people are broke with little hope of job prospects, there are criminal elements who are only to eager to rob them blind. I believe there should be more done to combat these evil scams because that’s all they are- the house wins every time. The percentage of winnings is low and jobs they provide are unsustainable.

    I knew a family who lost their home from the father’s uncontrollable gambling habit. My daughter was only in the 4th grade when she came home to tell me her classmate would not have a place to live.

    What we need are good companies who pay fair wages and benefits, not casinos who only take their money away. There are no long term benefits to surrounding communities. Rt 16 is already a nightmare, what will another 25,,000 daily motorists do to that road?

  8. ritepride says:

    Amen “Pixie Pocahontas” and “A. Moore”….Truthful and well stated.

  9. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    A.Moore,

    Has anyone considered the impact to local bars?
    When the casino is offering free drinks 24/7, it increases the likelihood of criminal activity as well as unemployment.

    When people complain we are losing money to CT, they don’t understand where the money goes. It’s not back to to taxpayers and communities. I have the same argument for non-profits. The services they all require will outweigh the gains, in terms of revenue and social impacts.

    But hey, as long as it’s a Wynn-Win, that’s all that matters.
    Let them put it in Revere or some back road suburban enclave. At least we won’t end up like another completely degraded area like Atlantic City. Just about every place which brought in a casino turned into a hell hole.

    We will also be forced to hire more cops and we all know how much more it will cost us in taxes.

    The occasional stop of playing the slot machines and roulette tables is fine, but that is not owners of casinos intent in order to thrive. It’s another profession which benefits on unfortunate circumstances of others. What little money they have just to pay rent and food will be stripped away.

    It will also lower our real estate properties. I was told by a realtor in Cambridge who I have known for over 10 years. There are many negatives they will not disclose, it will be too late after it’s here.

    I’ve been spending my time and money in Medford Sq., and other towns to escape the circus madness of Davis Sq., and side show frenzy. At least Medford takes care of their residents and does not sell out its town. A close personal friend has lived there for years, raised a family. We grew up in the same neighborhood and were classmates. It is so different in some neighboring towns, you can actually relax and enjoy the day. People are also less rude on the roads and off. When Assembly and if the casino comes, RT 16 will be the last place on earth I will be.

  10. Johnnie Jazz says:

    Bill/Pixie, I don’t think Everett cares what you or Joey Curtatone thinks about their development plans as I am sure Joey doesn’t care what Everett thinks of his. The casino is coming soon No doubt.. Whether that’s Revere or Everett — it’s coming, so we best learn how to leverage it for commercial taxes

    And please note that trying to blackmail Everett won’t work. Everett voters wanted it in their community, so they’re the ones who will reap the benefits. As it should be.

    Casinos are just adult entertainment meccas now more so that gaming/gambling dens. And while I don’t gamble much I do know many people who do and they don’t have addiction issues to gambling. Let people have that they voted to have here (legalized gambling).

    Lastly, didn’t you and some of your cronies do enough damage to our tax base with your silliness via that Mystic View task force? Now you want to throw water on Everett’s dreams of rebuilding via the 25 to 30 million they’ll get per year. They won’t tolerate it.

  11. amen says:

    destination places like this would be and Foxwoods don’t bring crime or destroy areas. I should say I’m confused as I believe you can offer gambling and not be responsible for people who abuse it. as you can offer bars the same way. but I don’t believe the government should be making money off people with problems. I’d mostly like to say gambling didn’t destroy Atlantic City, federal government programs did that. We created generations of people who won’t work and are comfortable with the benefits lifestyle. People who work the A.C. casinos live in neighboring towns, not right in A.C. so it’s benefiting those areas, but will never benefit AC while government dependence continues.
    it seems there has to be financial consideration for Somerville and surrounding areas that will clearly be impacted by traffic.

  12. JPM says:

    The fact that Partners Health Care is a “non-profit” is so absurd – it is almost beyond belief. I mean, GE or Exxon might as well be a non-profit.

  13. JPM says:

    A negative externality (also called “external cost” or “external diseconomy”) is an action of a product on consumers that imposes a negative effect on a third party; it is “external cost”. And this is a case study in negative externalities.

  14. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    I would like to see a legitimate survey be done on how much money the average person wastes at a casino each year. I bet it’s between 5-8 grand. Think what could be done with that money in a positive way.

    How often have you been to these gambling casinos? I’ve been only 6 times with friends to convince me of what I already assumed. I believe they are used for other forms of business.

    Frankly, I don’t give a damn anymore because the powers that be will just keep pimping out our cities into complete ruination. Like the our north and south shore tourist towns and Florida- it will be the poor who have no choice but to live a life of crime due to lack of opportunities and healthy lifestyles enjoyed only by the rich and corporate greed will continue to profit.

    But I’m sharing my opinions and facts I have read which other towns have endured because I refuse to be lied to by the corporate owned media who haven’t got the backbone to tell it like it is.

    The money Everett or Revere will receive will be chump change in the face of the problems it will bring. They will have to build a few more courthouses and jails along with training new recruits of 5,000 more staties.

    I’ll continue to stay clear of Rt. 16 and spend my time in Cambridge, Medfa, Arlington, Natick and anywhere northwest of Boston.
    That’s where most middle class of this area go to get away from Davis Campus and the rest of the craziness.

    I actually find irony to the situation between our illustrious mayor and the casino chasers. They are all selling out our towns to the highest bidders but pretend like they are doing us a favor.

    I have studied the local political scene for over 30 years as well as true crime. I once wrote for a website in another regional of the state. What shocks me is how people can live here for so long and still remain clueless about how things work. You must pay to play or you’re out of the game. Everyone wants to win whether they have a casino or not and no one cares where the money comes from. Friends today enemies tomorrow and frienemies will always set aside differences when there is a big payoff to be made. I don’t trust a word they say. When you catch them in their lies you learn who they are–the only way to beat them at their own game is not to play the game and spend your money on things that truly benefit your life. I didn’t sign up for this, neither did most of you who still hope things will change.

  15. A.Moore says:

    At least Everett got to vote on something that has a big impact in their town unlike us who were stuck with the Assembly project. It just seems Everett is as much stuck with our project as we are stuck with theirs. Not a problem to me as I have no plans on having anything to do with either of them as neither one of them has anything I would want to go there for.

  16. amen says:

    pixie, agreeing with so much of what you say, but not when you object to people wasting money. the government isn’t here to tell people where and how to spend their own money. people waste money in bars, malls, etc. and Ledyard CT hasn’t built any new courthouses or been impacted by crime. The big issues are traffic, which I believe will completely overwhelm wellington circle area and that end of 93

  17. ritepride says:

    Won’t it be ironic when the ballot issue comes up regarding casinos. Word is none of the people really want the casino in their backyard. Oh they want to gamble just not in their neighborhood. So when the casino issue gets defeated what will the gang on Bacon Hill do with the Mass State Casino Commission? Make it part of the Bank Commission??
    If Casinos get defeated there will be one true winner who will get the laugh on the Bacon Hill gang…Sal Dimasi. Then Obama can pull the presidential pardon for Guv Deval’s relative and release Dimasi instead.
    That would be true justice.

  18. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Amen,

    Ledyard, CT is not the mean streets of Everett and East Somerville. The place looks like a setting of a Stephen King novel similar to some back woods countryside village in Northern Maine.

    Maybe better out in western Mass, than an already too densely populated region such as Wellington area.

    The first time I walked into Foxwoods, I saw elderly women at slot machines and it it’s made me sad. I guess I have always been sort of old fashioned. The women in our family would never go to a casino even if they had discretionary funds of their own.

    There were four of us on the same first trip. A boyfriend of the other couple won $25k on $5 slot machines. He decided not to share with his live in girlfriend. How would you feel if your girlfriend won big and didn’t split the proceeds?

    Each time I went, I usually won more than I lost, always came home with a few hundred more than the $300 I started with, learned to play four corner roulette, which helps the odds. There were a few people using credit cards so they could continue playing and lost thousands in just a few hours.

    It’s interesting what you can observe at casinos. I prefer not to watch people being sucked into a parasitic social activity. After all, this is not a James Bond movie.

  19. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    rite,

    I was not surprised by what happened to Sal DiMasi. He stood in the way of “progress”. Some have got away with far worse crimes. It may as well be part of the banking industry. Another rigged system.

  20. amen says:

    I agree on the difference between Ledyard and Everett. you make a good point. we already have elements that would really make hay with a casino. but I continue to disagree with you bringing up people spending money or not sharing winnings. all choices that are none of my business.

  21. Johnnie Jazz says:

    Pixie, you had said though that where casinos get built there is a drastic increase in crime/prostitution/drugs, but as amen pointed out that is not the case. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in CT, Alaska, Somerville or Harlem – there is no noticeable increase in crime, but there are added jobs (may be not ideal jobs, but jobs nonetheless) and improved infrastructures.

    That argument doesn’t hold water along with your betting strategy in roulette (4 corner betting). I hate to shoot that down, but we mostly have the American Roulette tables here (the double-zero is an added) and the house edge is going to 5.27 no matter how you bet. Play craps, blackjack, baccarat and learn to bet smartly. I don’t gamble much, but when I do I like to win. It’s more fun that way.

    Again… casinos are coming and there is no doubt that they will build too many (3 in this state is 1 too many). Suffolk would have been the ideal location as horse racing there is dying. Talk about going in and getting depressed — I remember when you’d go to Revere beach or Nahant and then hit Suffolk (or wonderland before the nanny state outlawed), have a few drinks, bet a few races and have some laughs. Now you go in there and whole sections are just shutdown. Just a handful of people straggling about. A true shame. Put a casino there and maybe people will realize how exciting horse racing can be.

  22. Rob says:

    What’s all this talk about casinos? They’re already here. Have you ever been to an appropriately named 7-11?

  23. wth says:

    Besides the location of Foxwoods, there is another difference between them and Everett. Foxwoods sits on sovereign land, Everett does not. Not sure how much difference that actually makes, but it could have an effect on crime, etc.

  24. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Amen,

    My point is gambling can cause problems in otherwise healthy relationships, which can lead to divorce and other social problems and crime, like B&E’s , larceny and embezzlement.

    Johnny,

    I agree Revere is ideal since it’s already had other forms of gambling.
    But that location is trickier and demographics are less diverse. By what I have seen in Foxwoods, Everett and Chelsea will bring in a lot more traffic and they can also tap into the student population as well as high rollers from financial street. The intersecting rail lines will also provide easy access to the habitual gambler who can’t drive. Think of the billions it will bring to Wynn. Maybe he can afford to buy a new toupee.

  25. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    From what I hear this type of casino has different owners who are not aligned with good ole boys, maybe some of Sal’s friends are keeping it out. My guess, more condos by the sea side, more profits less upkeep.

  26. Barry the Pig says:

    Pixie, sure you always win more than you lose at casinos. I suppose you are one of those special guys who can bend statistical laws with willpower or something!

  27. S 2 da ville says:

    Deval doesn’t want the casino in Everett, so since Joe’s head is up the gov’s rear end, he doesn’t want it, and then likewise you morons don’t want it. If Wynn gets to build there, great. If not, no big deal.

  28. ritepride says:

    Eliminate the Casinos and bring back the BINGO where they call out the numbers in Latin….lol Im sure the Cardinal will support it.

  29. A,Moore says:

    Thank you ritepride, we need to put religion back into government.

Leave a Reply

*