Even for folks who have closely followed the controversial proposed Concord Casino on Loudon Road, it came as a total surprise that this project received conditional approval after a lengthy and angst ridden debate in City Hall Chambers late last Wednesday night June 21st. The posted agenda for this meeting noted that discussion on the Casino was postponed until the August Planning meeting and callers to the Planning Department were told the same. As a result, people interested in the project did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Many had not heard of the approval before the Concord Monitor published its article titled “Concord casino plans reluctantly approved by Planning Board members with no more public input” appeared in print Saturday morning.
The proposed casino project in Concord, New Hampshire has stirred up a wave of controversy and frustration among planning board members and the public. The project, led by businessman Andy Sanborn, aims to establish a casino, a restaurant with a microbrewery, and eventually a hotel and conference center near Exit 3 of Interstate 393. The complex is planned for 43,000 square feet to be built in two phases. However, the project has faced setbacks and opposition, particularly due to concerns about public safety and a lack of comprehensive assessments.
During the May 18 meeting, planning board members expressed their dissatisfaction when Mr. Sanborn and his consultants failed to produce a report that adequately addressed the concerns raised by the fire and police departments regarding public safety and potential crime among other things. At that meeting the planning board’s decision to continue the public hearing required that the city hire a third-party consultant to be paid for by Sanborn. The Concord Monitor wrote about the May 18th Planning Board meeting in their article “Proposed casino gets pushback from Concord Planning Board after public safety review didn’t deliver”.
After the May meeting, the City went through the process of soliciting bids and negotiated and executed a contract with a selected consultant five days before Wednesday’s meeting. They promptly informed Mr. Sanborn that the contract was executed and that the consultant would start immediately as soon as Mr. Sanborn paid the consultant’s fee.
So what happened?
The Planning Department was taken by surprise when at 4:30pm the day of the June Planning Board meeting they were informed that Sanborn, his counsel and another consultant (not contracted through the City) would be appearing later that evening. Planning Board Chair Richard Woodfin described the meeting best: “It’s a little bit of an ambush”.
Sanborn presented the results of a new emergency services report from the new consultant, which was handed to the board members in the form of a single sheet of paper at the meeting and largely consisted of a summary of phone conversations with public safety officials with no documentation or backup. The city planner and some board members expressed concerns that this report fell far shy of what the city had requested. In the February Planning Board meeting citizens raised a point that from 2018-2022 Sanborn’s “The Draft Bar and Casino” received 57 calls for alcohol, drug, property, or violent crimes, while Buffalo Wild Wings (a similar sized establishment) received 27 calls.
Mr. Sanborn was made aware of the concerns of the board and the risk of an appeal. But despite these warnings, he said he would not consent to any further delay and required that the board vote that evening. Despite the hesitation and concerns, the planning board voted 4-2 in favor of granting conditional approval for Phase I of the casino project. Sanborn will be required to meet the required conditions within the year, including the submission of a traffic signalization plan and the provision of some sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and connections on Loudon Road. Failure to meet these conditions will necessitate appearing before the board to request an extension.
With conditional approval granted, the project is one step closer to realization, pending the fulfillment of the imposed conditions related to traffic, sidewalks . However, the ongoing controversies and potential legal challenges may continue to impact the future of the Concord casino project. We are still gathering information about the various options available to Concord Residents. In the meantime, if you would have attended the Planning Board meeting last week if there was to be public testimony we encourage you to email or call the Mayor, your City Councilor, the At-Large Councilors, and/or members of the Planning Board. As always be sure to cc your emails to email@example.com so that they are entered into the public record and while you’re at it cc ConcordGreenspace@gmail.com so we can get a count of those whose voices were not heard. (Emails below for easy copy and paste!)
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, JKretovic@concordnh.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, HShank@concordnh.gov, email@example.com