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Suffolk delays approval on gaming plan for Medford

Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp.'s plan for a 1,000-machine

Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp.'s plan for a 1,000-machine video lottery terminal casino in Medford came under harsh questioning from county planning commissioners, who later delayed approval by voting that the application was incomplete. Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp.'s plan for a 1,000-machine video lottery terminal casino in Medford came under harsh questioning Wednesday from county planning commissioners, who later delayed approval by voting that the application was incomplete.

The commission voted 8-5 to freeze the county's 45-day review period, due to expire Jan. 12, until OTB officials can provide more detailed data. The items the commission is seeking include environmental reports, data on waste water levels, traffic flows and public safety, and parking issues involving the $65 million casino project and the impact it would have on the Medford community.

"The clock is suspended until we get the information," said David Calone, commission chair.

Phil Nolan, Suffolk OTB president, conceded that some elements of the plan are not complete, but said the county planning staff had found there was enough information to bring it to commission. "Obviously, there are issues to be resolved and we'll do whatever it takes to complete the rest of the information so that it can be considered," Nolan said.

The Brookhaven Town planning board, which has the final say over the project, also had been scheduled to begin reviewing the casino plan at a work session Wednesday, but took it off the agenda because it is also awaiting further data.

Before the planning commission vote, the casino site plan underwent a half-hour of heated debate and some commission members seemed ready to vote the project down.

"This is a legal parasite that is going to suck money from the community and really give nothing back," said Carl Gabrielsen, a commissioner member. Another member, Glynis Berry, said, "I'd like to make a motion to reject it."

But member Michael Kelly, a developer, said the commission was limited to considering details of the plan, not whether the property should be used for a gambling casino. He added that the proposal meets county requirements. "Is it optimal? No, but it is allowed," he said.

Other commissioners were less sympathetic. "This is a 19th century site plan for a 21st century use," said Adrienne Esposito, board vice chairwoman. She worried that the casino, which would operate from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m., "will degrade the quality of the community," adding, "The community will only have relief from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m."

"It's the good, the bad and the ugly," said member Mike Kaufman, giving the project points for being in a largely industrial area with access from the Long Island Expressway. But he said the plan does not deal with problems raised by staff, including increased prostitution, crime and drug use. "Right now there's no meat on the bone," he said."It's more positive than an approval," Don Seubert, vice president of the Medford Civic and Taxpayers Association, one of four civic leaders who spoke against the plan, said of the commission vote. He added that further review will show "their plan is more incomplete than they realize."

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