Mayor meets with Chinatown leaders on casino concerns

More than a dozen Chinatown community, church and business leaders met with Mayor Michael Nutter Saturday morning to discuss their neighborhood’s concerns about putting a casino at The Gallery at Market East.

Foxwoods Casino is considering a Gallery location. Thursday, City Council passed zoning legislation that would allow a casino to operate there. The two bills now await Nutter’s signature. The leaders asked Nutter for a meeting immediately after the City Council vote.

The Chinatown leaders asked Nutter to veto the bills, or at least not to sign them, said Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United. They also asked him to have a town-hall style meeting with the broader Chinatown community, Gym said, and they wanted to know if there is a threshold of problems at which city leaders would not allow a casino project to move forward at The Gallery.

Nutter gave no definitive answers, Gym said. “We’re waiting to hear back from him on all of these things.”

He did make comments about the difference between the passage of the CED legislation vs. the approval of the entire casino project that echo what other city elected and planning officials have said, Gym said.  “He indicated that he felt there were two processes, the CED process and a second one that is more detailed.”

At public meetings, residents have said that the city is moving the process along much too quickly, without enough information about what Foxwoods might do at The Gallery or the impact the casino would have on the neighborhood. Officials have told them that the CED is just the beginning of the process, a good faith effort to prompt Foxwoods to provide the highly detailed plan of development. If that plan is no good for the city, it will be voted down, they have said.

But that hasn’t stopped residents from being concerned about gambling addiction, the impact on businesses, and other things. 

The Chinatown leaders wanted to meet with the mayor because they feel the comments they’ve made to his representatives, the City Planning Commission and Council haven’t been heard, Gym said.

“At the Nov. 1 (public hearing), we brought 1,000 people, and had five hours of testimony, and then the rules committee has no dialogue, and unanimously sends (the CED legislation) through, and then suspends the rules to fast-track it,” she said. Gym said Chinatown residents have felt disrespected through the whole process, from the day in September when they found out a casino was proposed for the Gallery 10 minutes before a public announcement.

When asked about having a town hall meeting in Chinatown, the mayor expressed concerns over the behavior at an Oct. 9 town meeting, which he did not attend.

There was a lot of shouting and chanting and some interruption of speakers. Gym noted that other communities where casinos have been proposed have protested, and the processes there have taken longer than this one seems to be.

“By Chinatown raising these concerns, that’s considered outspoken on our part, or that we were misbehaving,” Gym said. She said the leaders told the mayor that some people were expressing frustration because it feels like their opinions don’t matter. “It’s hard for us to understand how we can trust the process when this is the kind of experience we’ve had,” she said.

Attempts to reach a spokesman for Mayor Nutter on Saturday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Posted by Kellie Patrick Gates

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