Concord residents appeal casino approval in court

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 07-20-2023 5:41 PM

A city resident is asking a judge to invalidate the surprise decision made by the Concord Planning Board to approve a casino on the east side of the city.

Kassey Cameron of Concord appealed the board’s decision in Merrimack County Superior Court, arguing she and other residents would have attended the meeting had they been aware the application would be heard before the board that night.

“This appeal stems from a drastic deprivation of the public’s right to due process — to meaningfully participate in the process of determining the significance of the impacts a proposed, large-scale casino, microbrewery, restaurant, and ultimately a hotel — and from several legal errors,” the suit states.

Cameron and her attorney Amy Manzelli of BCM Environmental & Land Law are asking the judge to vacate the approval and send the application back to the board for more consideration.

The appeal centers on the fact that city officials incorrectly stated through the Planning Board agenda and directly to residents that the casino was not up for a public hearing or a vote at its June meeting.

“The Planning Board not only took up the application at its June meeting, it approved the application at that meeting,” the suit states. “The Planning Board knew full well that plaintiff (and the public) had not attended in reliance on the city’s representations.”

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The appeal comes nearly a month after the board reluctantly approved the new casino proposed by former State Senator Andy Sanborn near the intersection of Loudon Road and Sheep Davis Road. The casino proposal, which had been before the board for months, faced opposition from some neighbors and residents who were concerned that it would lead to an increase in crime and overwhelm the city’s emergency services.

The board wanted Sanborn to conduct a detailed study projecting emergency calls if the project was approved. Instead, he presented one page of data on projected emergency calls based on information from Boston Billiards in Nashua, the Brook in Seabrook, the Lakes Region Casino in Belmont and the Oxford Casino in Maine.

Despite questions and reservations from board members, Sanborn asked for a vote.

“I think my project, politely, is being picked on,” Sanborn said. “I’d love to get your support and your approval and if you want something, you can ask me and I’ll give it to you and we’ll make it happen.”

The project was passed by a 4-2 vote with one abstention.

“While the public was at home and not in attendance, the board not only took up the application, it digested new information it had just received, information it had previously found insufficient then approved it without the public ever having had any meaningful opportunity to be heard on it,” the appeal read.

If the court agrees that the city made a mistake in issuing conditional approval, the application would be remanded back to the planning board and the decision annulled, Manzelli explained.

Other city residents wrote to the Planning Board in advance of their meeting this week expressing their opposition to both the board’s conduct and its decision.

“I was appalled to read that you ‘reluctantly approved’ Andy Sanborn’s proposed casino project this week. I am still trying to comprehend how you could ‘reluctantly approve’ such a thing without a public hearing,” wrote resident Dan Williams. “I know that the citizens of Concord, especially those of us that live around the corner from this proposed abomination, will be determined to stop this plan.”

“We are very disappointed in the process to this date and it is our belief that the first phase consideration and approval should never have happened without a public hearing, especially with the blindsiding of the planning office with a very last-minute report by Mr. Sanborn,” wrote Craig and Lauren Savage.

At the meeting in May, a month before approving the project, the board determined Sanborn failed to produce an adequate emergency services assessment. The board’s decision to continue the public hearing required Sanborn to hire a third-party consultant. The city chose a consultant and signed a contract five days before its June meeting.

Instead, Sanborn presented the results of a new emergency services report from a different consultant, which he handed to the board members in paper form at the meeting. City staff was unaware of his intentions until three hours before the meeting.

“It’s a little bit of an ambush,” Planning Board Chair Richard Woodfin said at the meeting.

If allowed to go forward by a judge, Sanborn, a former state senator who owns the Draft Sports Bar and Grill and the Concord Casino, will be required to meet a list of conditions, including submitting a traffic signalization plan and providing sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and connections on Loudon Road.

If those conditions are met, building permits will be granted and site construction will begin. Otherwise, Sanborn and his team will have to appear before the board to request an extension. The City Council is not required to hear the plans or make decisions regarding charitable gaming or the proposed development.

The first phase of the project includes a 24,000-square-foot gaming room with 634 seats and an 8,500-square-foot restaurant and brewpub that can hold up to 150 diners. The new building would be located near the intersection of Loudon and Sheep Davis roads close to Interstate 393 off Break O-Day Drive. The second phase of the project calls for a hotel and event center.

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