PARIS — A site hearing for the Oxford casino was contentious at times Tuesday night.
More than 200 people attended the hearing required by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Black Bear Entertainment investors and project consultants explained plans for the resort casino Maine voters narrowly passed on Nov. 2. The hearing was held at Oxford Comprehensive High School.
Robert Lally, treasurer for Black Bear and co-owner of Mt. Abram Ski Resort, told the audience that his group was open to feedback from the community. He said the project wouldn't be rushed.
Bob Berry of Main-Land Development Consultants in Livermore and Brian Davis of JCJ Architecture in Connecticut explained plans for land use and the layout of the casino. The presentation touched on water drainage, lighting and traffic.
In the following question-and-answer period, Patty Watts, a northern New Jersey resident whose family is from Welchville and who owns property in Norway, said she traveled 400 miles from home for the hearing. Watts said she was concerned the casino could turn Oxford into Atlantic City.
“If you do not lock your doors, you'd better go out and buy some locks,” she told audience members. Describing signs offering to buy gold near the Atlantic City Boardwalk, she said people addicted to gambling and drugs would rob local homes.
“This is not Atlantic City,” Lally said as several in the audience applauded him. Lally said a 100-mile radius blocking casino development around the Oxford resort would stop development of other casinos that could turn Oxford into a casino town.
Davis, whose architecture firm designs resort casinos around the country, said his company has a reputation for not designing casinos in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. “I have to cringe when people equate what we've set out to do with anything in Atlantic City,” Davis said.
Watts also asked about runoff of oils from parking lots surrounding the casino. Berry explained that Maine DEP requires the casino to build detention ponds for parking lot runoff. He said the ponds will have a specific size and water volume, and are designed to handle of up to 6 inches of rainwater.
A Rabbit Valley Road resident was concerned about parking lot lights. Berry said that while lights are required, they will be downward facing and the recessed bulbs won't be visible from the road.
Davis added that the lights would be much dimmer than those at other casinos he'd designed in order to fit in with the rural setting.
Terri Coolidge Marin, who lives off Rabbit Valley Road in what will be the casino's watershed area, asked several questions about runoff and traffic on Rabbit Valley Road until she was asked to address the resort board later and make time for other questions.
Most comments were positive.
Linda Walbridge, director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, spoke only to laud Black Bear for the jobs the planned casino will create. “We need jobs in this county,” Walbridge said, adding that the projected number of jobs the casino could create is just over the number of unemployed people in Oxford County.
Scott Smith of Black Bear said the group has received more than 4,200 inquiries through the website mainecasino.com. He said 70 percent of those were from individuals seeking jobs.
In response to a question about property values, Oxford Town Manager Mike Chammings estimated that property taxes in town would drop about 30 percent over five years as a result of income from the casino.
Peter Martin of Black Bear said studies suggest that property values will go up around the casino as more businesses move to the immediate area. He said he couldn't guarantee that would happen in Oxford.
The casino construction, divided into three phases, is planned to be complete in 2015.
Davis said that after the first phase is built, planned later additions like a 200-room hotel and the parking garage are best guesses, but construction will depend on what the market demands. For example, if the first 100-room hotel isn't always full, the addition of 100 more rooms might not happen.