In the second blow to local horse racing hopes this week, the Dumfries Town Council said Tuesday that reviewing a proposal by track owner Colonial Downs Inc. will take a month longer than the company expected and that the firm's application may fall short of addressing the town's needs.
Dumfries officials said that before they even consider Colonial Downs's application, which was submitted last week, the town must first change its zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan to make what is now a landfill suitable for a broader range of uses. Only then would the town review the conditional use amendment that Colonial Downs requires to place its one-mile steeplechase course and grandstand at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 234.
"We are trying not to give the impression that a zoning text amendment would be done solely for accommodating this particular application," said Town Manager Mike Riley.
Colonial Downs's proposal stated that it hoped town approval might be gained by Sept. 7, the date of the next council meeting. But Riley recommended Tuesday night that the council not vote on the issue until at least mid-October, and he added later that preparations might take even longer.
Colonial Downs president Ian Stewart said Wednesday that his company would work with the delay but that he hoped mid-October would remain a target date for a decision.
"It's not a huge problem," Stewart said. "Obviously, we would like for them to act a little sooner because it would strengthen our application."
The company, like a rival group that wishes to build a track in Nokesville, still needs to submit an application to the Virginia Racing Commission by Sept. 1 in time to meet the Nov. 30 expiration date of a five-year county referendum allowing pari-mutuel wagering.
Dumfries officials stressed that a variety of studies must first be performed to determine the effects of a racetrack on the town--particularly on traffic. Attendance is expected to average about 600 people daily, with about 2,000 people attending on the 20 or fewer days of live racing at the facility.
Mayor Chris Brown said the council needs to "really strategically go through a deliberate planning process" before voting. He said he intends to use town staff, and to hopefully enlist the help of Prince William County and other agencies, to assess the track's potential effect on population, transportation, local economics, public safety and the environment.
Prince William would like to have its say. County Planning Director Rick Lawson wrote Brown on Monday asking for "an opportunity to review and comment on the anticipated impacts this facility may have on Prince William and its environs."
After this deliberation, Colonial Downs's proposal would need to go through at least two public hearings--one with the planning commission, and one with the council.
In the meantime, the Town Council has begun weighing the thoroughness of the company's application as well as the proffers it offers to the town. Colonial Downs says the $21 million project will generate between $149,000 and $204,000 in taxes to the town annually. The company's proposal offers $25,000 to the town for recreation fields and would make limited transportation improvements--namely, traffic controllers and possibly a traffic light.
Riley said Colonial Downs's application seemed inadequate when compared with the one received by the county from Equus Gaming Co. and Virginia Turf Club, the two groups headed by the family of Middleburg James J. Wilson that are trying to start a racetrack in Nokesville.
"We looked at what Equus submitted and looked at what Colonial Downs submitted and there was a difference," Riley said.
"There are clearly issues in Dumfries that need to be addressed," Brown added. "We have watershed issues, curb, gutter, sidewalk, drainage. . . . We have a long list of things that we need addressed in Dumfries, and I'm looking every day for mechanisms to assist us in getting this done."