The proposal for a racetrack in Dumfries moved closer to resolution last week when Colonial Downs Inc. submitted its application to the town, just as a rival group of track owners, headed by the family of Middleburg businessman James J. Wilson, switched gears by offering a proposal for a track in the Nokesville area.
While Nov. 30 looms as the last day before a five-year parimutuel wagering referendum expires, Colonial Downs has offered a $21 million proposal it says would generate $149,000 to $205,000 in direct annual tax revenue for Dumfries. Offering a $25,000 contribution up front toward sports fields and an admissions tax on attendance that would go straight into Dumfries's coffers, the company hopes to fulfill expectations as an economic boon for the small town.
Meanwhile, the Wilson family, through Equus Gaming Co. and the Virginia Turf Club Inc., submitted an application to the county Tuesday for a racetrack on 220 acres in Nokesville, similar to the proposal they offered in July for a track on 252 acres north of Haymarket.
It could not be immediately determined whether the second Wilson proposal is intended to replace or supplement the first. Calls to attorney Mike Vanderpool, who represents the Wilson groups, and to Virginia Turf Club spokesman Brian Wilson, son of James J. Wilson, were not returned late last week.
Details of the newest application, made for a piece of land at Fauquier Drive and Reid Lane near the Fauquier County line, are strikingly similar to the Haymarket proposal. Both would feature a "European style" turf track, as well as a three-story clubhouse with two restaurants. But the hours of simulcast wagering have been reduced under the second application, which might reflect attention to recent community fears that gambling would be emphasized far more than live racing at such facilities.
The Nokesville betting parlor would be open only six days a week and would operate from noon to 8 p.m., rather than 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at the Haymarket site. The proposal calls for live racing at the track at least 100 days a year. The Nokesville track would be accessed by Route 28, and its grandstand would hold a maximum of 2,000 people.
Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), in whose district the Haymarket track would be located, said the additional application "will calm a lot of the citizens' concern in the Haymarket area." He said that he had met with representatives from Equus more than once to say he would not support a Haymarket site and that the Nokesville proposal might have resulted from that opposition.
As for Colonial Downs's application for a conditional use permit in Dumfries, Mayor Chris Brown and Town Council members said that they had not yet studied the application but that they would look more closely at it during a work session Tuesday night.
"I have a copy of it at my home that I've been studying," Brown said. "I'm still reviewing the information."
Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart said he hoped the Town Council would give its approval at its regular meeting Sept. 7. But Brown and Town Manager Mike Riley cautioned that there is no definite date for a decision. And some council members have expressed concern that the November deadline might be too soon to allow proper time to consider the application.
"The one thing we don't want to do is to jump hastily ahead and not consider all the implications," Riley said. He said the town attorney and others are studying the ramifications of rezoning the landfill to make room for the track.
Colonial Downs hopes to convert the town's 90-acre landfill into a one-mile grass steeplechase course, with a facility inside the grandstand for simulcast wagering--the most controversial aspect of the proposal. The betting parlor, which would be open daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., is the money-maker for the project. But many residents, homeowner associations and local officials have said that because of the number of hours a week the track would be open, gambling would overshadow racing as the facility's purpose.
The prevalence of simulcast betting in the Colonial Downs proposal also has led opponents to object that voters did not know what they were supporting when they approved a county referendum in 1994 allowing racetracks.
The Dumfries proposal projects that on average, 600 people would visit the racetrack daily, while 2,000 would visit on the three to six days a year with live racing. The application holds out the possibility for thoroughbred racing as well and provides for security guards when the track is open. It also offers to impose an additional 25-cent charge for attendance, all of which would go to the town.
Track and grandstand construction would be completed by 2003, according to the application's estimates. The cost of building the Dumfries track would be borne about equally by Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Stewart said.