|By Chris Maza|
WILBRAHAM Representatives from MGM Springfield went before the Board of Selectmen at its April 8 meeting in order to open a dialogue with the town regarding any concerns related to being a community that could abut the site of a casino.
Frank Fitzgerald, a Wilbraham native with a law practice in East Longmeadow acting as the local counsel for MGM, explained that the primary purpose of the meeting was to make sure the town had received the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) notification the gaming company was required to submit to all abutting communities. He hoped this initial discussion would open the door for open dialogue.
"As you know, MGM is vying in the city of Springfield to be designated as the recipient of a host community agreement, which would ultimately be presented to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in order to receive a gaming license," he said. "In the meantime, it makes sense to move things along and one of the things we need to move along is the MEPA process, which requires notification to the town. We thought it would be appropriate to use that here to start a dialogue with the town of Wilbraham.
"It is a bordering community and the statute is specific on how bordering communities would be dealt with, so that's why we wanted to start the dialogue with you," he continued.
The selectmen and members of the audience were shown two brief videos outlining the kinds of entertainment that would be available through MGM Springfield, as well as the layout of the proposed complex.
Chuck Irving, president of Davenport Properties, which is acting as a consultant for MGM, said if completed, the project "will be one of the largest ever built in Western Massachusetts."
The complex, he said, would be between 600,000 and 700,000 square feet, including the parking structure, with a 90,000 square-foot casino floor, a 290-room hotel and 3,000 to 4,000 parking spaces in the garage that would be free to all Springfield visitors, regardless of whether or not they are going to the casino, during the week.
"The reason we're here tonight is because that project will bring traffic and other impacts," he said, adding that MGM has a public hearing with the state on April 11 to discuss potential effects. "We thought in addition to that, it would be good to talk with each town that we abut one at a time."
Irving said that among the neighboring communities, Wilbraham would have one of the lowest effects, especially in terms of traffic.
"The impact on Wilbraham will not be all that great in terms of traffic. We are looking at maybe 40 additional cars passing through your town at the most peak hours," he said.
Irving added, however, that he believed Wilbraham could be affected positively by an influx of employment opportunities to the area.
"We're hoping the biggest impact this project has on Wilbraham is jobs," he said. "We're going to have over 3,000 jobs coming to this area and the average salary should be around $55,000."
While the board didn't have any specific questions at that time, Irving said that his firm and MGM would be willing to make any consultants or engineers involved with the project available to the board at any time for a more in-depth discussion.
The selectmen also approved a new structure for calculating permit rates that Building Inspector Lance Trevallion outlined at the meeting.
Trevallion explained that prior to the change, calculations were done based on the square footage of the building. However, with the new method, permit fees will be calculated based on the project's estimated construction costs, which falls in line with what the state recommends and would provide the town with a sum of money more commensurate with the costs of overseeing the project. Trevallion said he makes between 10 and 12 trips to a site on average, depending on the project.
"This change has been a long time coming. We first started this process two years ago, but after the wind events and a snowstorm, we thought it wouldn't be appropriate to make the change until now," he said.
Trevallion suggested a rate of $6 per $1,000 in construction costs for larger residential and commercial building projects, including new construction and additions.
By comparison, Amherst charges $10 per $1,000, Springfield $8 per $1,000, Ludlow $7 per $1,000 and Monson $6 per $1,000.
"With the size of the increase, we thought it was appropriate to start on the lower end of the scale," Trevallion said.
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