I couldn’t believe this headline.
–Edited for length–
Battle lines drawn over Gettysburg casino plan
Sunday, June 12, 2005
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
GETTYSBURG, Pa. – When she heard the news in late April, Susan Star Paddock, of Gettysburg, was stunned, saddened and angered.
A development group called Chance Enterprises had unveiled plans to build a glitzy gambling palace and health spa outside town on Route 30, a growing commercial corridor not far from the historic battlefields and cemetery of Gettysburg National Military Park.
The site, now grass and trees, is something Paddock and others, along with many historians, academics and Civil War buffs across the country, consider sacred.
The casino proposed for Gettysburg is one of a number of pitched battles being fought between developers and preservationists over Civil War sites heavy with history – Manassas, Vicksburg, and Kennesaw Mountain among them – that are under increasing pressure from adjacent housing, retail and entertainment projects.
The Gettysburg proposal drew swift and vocal response.
“My reaction was one of horror,” Paddock, who’s now a leader of a month-old activist group called No Casino Gettysburg, said last week.
The casino plan is “a desecration, a terrible exploitation, an attack on the history of the community that I love so deeply,” she said. “Everybody has a bad idea at least once in their life and this is David’s.”
She was referring to David LeVan, a former president of Conrail and now owner of Battlefield Harley Davidson, a local motorcycle dealership, and the leader of the 10-member local development group.
Paddock has an ally in Muriel Rice, 83, a former Gettysburg borough councilwoman, school board member and ex-president of the Adams County Historical Society.
“I thought I had retired from community activity, but when I heard about this, I decided to do everything I can to see there is no casino in Gettysburg,” said Rice, who’s lived here since 1945. “The whole atmosphere of the town will be harmed by it. Many people have told us they won’t bring their families here if there is a casino.”
‘To honor and protect’
In Gettysburg, preservationists are getting help from national groups, such as the Civil War Preservation Trust and Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg.
“We’re here to honor and protect Gettysburg, and that includes the perception people have of this special place,” said David Booz, of the Friends, which was founded in 1989 and claims 25,000 members nationwide.
The idea of building a mega-gambling center so near the spot where thousands of men died and President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address obviously touches a lot of people deeply.
LeVan insists that many local residents like the idea of a casino or, at least, are willing to consider it. He said much of the opposition was based on emotion rather than “logic or reason.”
“Many of our opponents don’t care to understand the project and would be opposed no matter what we said,” LeVan said.
State Rep. Stephen Maitland, R-Adams, who initially was undecided on the casino, said, "I decided to stop keeping score on public opinion when the calls to my office reached 250 ‘nos’ and only 20 ‘yeses.’ "
That response was in line with surveys he did last year before Act 71, the law legalizing 14 casinos around the state, was approved by the Legislature. “My constituents were opposed to casinos by a 3 to 1 margin,” he said.
LeVan said he had a phone survey of 600 local residents done by the Pittsburgh consulting firm of Brabender Cox, which, he said, showed considerable support for the proposed $200 million Gettysburg Gaming Resort and Spa. The project includes a hotel, some restaurants and small shops.
Gettysburg: No position
Some local officials, noting the depth of feeling on the issue, are staying neutral. The Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position
Gettysburg Borough Council isn’t likely to do so either, council President Ted Streeter said. The casino site isn’t within the boundaries of Gettysburg, but instead sits near the intersection of Routes 30 and 15, in tiny Straban, which doesn’t have its own police force and depends on state police for protection.
Streeter said of the housing/retail development and traffic congestion that opponents fear a casino would bring: “That’s happening anyway.”
Streeter, who said he was neutral on the casino, added that many farmers and apple growers in the agricultural land around Gettysburg were “selling out to developers,” and that many houses were springing up on land that had been used to grow crops. Adams County is among the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania, with many people moving up from Maryland, he said.
“With the houses will come retail businesses and stores like Wal-Mart,” Streeter said. Blocking a casino “is not going to stop growth in Adams County.”
While both sides are making a plea for public support, nothing is expected to happen for a while. The new Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is creating procedures and criteria for evaluating operators’ bids for running casinos.
But decisions by the gambling board on licenses for racinos aren’t due to be made until late this year or early in 2006, with licenses for stand-alone casinos not expected until mid-2006.
Both sides in the new battle of Gettysburg will get a chance to make their case to the gambling board before it issues a license. Act 71 does not, however, give local zoning or planning boards any power over where the casinos will go or whether they will be permitted in a town at all.
Over the coming months, LeVan said, “We will provide opportunities for people to fully understand what we plan to do. Some of the opponents might be persuaded if they understood it.”
The proposed casino/spa would be built three miles east of the historic downtown center of Gettysburg. The area on Route 30 is a growing hodgepodge of retail/restaurant development, and the casino site is directly across the road from new commercial office buildings.
But construction around the historic Gettysburg battlefields has long been touchy.
I especially liked the city councilman’s quote about Wal-mart’s cropping up instead of casinos. I guess as long as the casinos provide employee health coverage and cut the state gov’t in on profits, who cares.
The site nocasinogettysburg.com (biased, I know) also points out that the casino would be built between the National Military Park and the East Cavalry Park right next to a township recreational park. If you believe in God, I think he reserves a special place in hell for developers like this.