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Racino stumbles coming out of gate

Danielle Ryan

(4/20) The $300 million proposed Mason-Dixon Downs casino/racetrack continues to falter as the Freedom Township Planning Commission chose to table the decision regarding a requested text amendment to the zoning ordinance at their April 5 meeting. This is local businessman David LeVanís third attempt at placing a casino in Freedom Township. This time, LeVan is proposing the facility be placed on Emmitsburg Road, less than a mile from U.S. Route 15 and the Maryland line.

The casino/racetrack combo, aka Ďracino,í license is the only casino license left in Pennsylvania. The proposed racino would consist of a Standardbred harness racetrack partnered with a casino that will house at least 1,500 slot machines, several eateries and a hotel.

The application to the Horse Racing Commission for the harness racing license is due June 14. As LeVan stated, the harness racing license is conditional, meaning that he needs to be approved for the horseracing license before he can apply for a casino license. As one of the Planning Commission member stated, "Weíre early in a very long process."

LeVan believes that Mason-Dixon Downs will be the highest value and offer the best use of the parcel of land for Freedom Township and Adams County. He also firmly believes it will create hundreds of jobs for locals in the county and will have a high economic impact on Gettysburg. Those who support the racino agree with LeVan in believing that it will provide more jobs for locals, even high paying jobs, and will bring more visitors to the area who will, in turn, support businesses in Gettysburg.

The 700-acre property is currently zoned mixed-use district but does not allow for casinos. The zoning also has restrictions to the building size that would conflict with LeVanís proposed casino. Robert Sharrah, of Sharrah Design Group, the Professional Land Surveyor working on this project, proposed several design commitments to ensure the facility maintain the rural ambiance include: a 65 foot maximum building height, placing all buildings 500 feet from the Main Road to ensure decreased visibility of the facility; placement of the main entrance 3,000 feet from US Route 15; the stipulation that no new homes will be built on the property. Sharrah said a secondary entrance, located on Bullfrog Road, will be used exclusively by horsemen and maintenance vehicles, the general patron will not be permitted to enter from Bullfrog Road.

As part of the proposed racino, LeVan also mentioned that there would be no grandstand and no stable facilities. Horses in each race will be shipped into the track prior to the race and then sent home after their race(s) are complete. LeVan stated that the non-horse boarding facilities are "on par" with modern casinos/race tracks. Instead of viewing the race from a grandstand, viewers will observe the action from inside the casino, on television monitors or from a viewing window.

When residents spoke in concern over the over-usage of Bullfrog Road, LeVan commented that he has yet to conduct a traffic study. Numerous residents are concerned that the roads, namely Bullfrog Road, are currently in no condition to support the amount of heavy traffic that would be expected with this type of facility, even if only horse trailers and maintenance vehicles are permitted in addition to local traffic that daily frequents the road. Locals want to know who will pay for the damage that will certainly occur. "Will it be the current taxpayers of Freedom Township or will the racino contribute?" Asked one resident.

Another resident noted that "within the current zoning ordinance the language showcases the spirit of a small town, i.e. "rural community"; this racino plan is not conducive to the initial vision of Freedom Township, it violates that spirit." Other residents expressed concerned that property values in the area will decrease as a result of this casino, and some question the validity of higher paying jobs being created for locals. When asked about expected wages for those employed by the casino, LeVan responded that he "doesnít wish to speculate on that right now, as he has not conducted an economic study yet."

LeVan promised to voluntarily formalize an agreement with Freedom Township to ensure it receives a portion of the casinoís profits. LeVan is taking this action to counter a court decision that stuck a state mandated requirement that local jurisdictions receive casino slots gross terminal revenue. While some residents are wary of LeVanís promise, Levan said he was a man of his word.

If the racino is approved by Freedom Township, and both the harness racing license and the gaming license are issued, LeVan hopes to start construction in Spring 2018, and have the entire facility completed by the summer of 2019.

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