Prince William residents will have their first chance to weigh in on two controversial racetracks proposed for the county as the Virginia Racing Commission holds public hearings on the plans Sept. 15.
The five-member commission, which received license applications last week from the two operators hoping to establish horse racing in Prince William, will tour the two proposed sites before holding separate public hearings Sept. 15.
"Public input is certainly one factor the commission will consider," said Stan Bouker, the commission's secretary.
Since the projects were made public in July, the commission already has received 60 letters from Prince William residents for and against the racetracks proposed by Colonial Downs Inc. in the small town of Dumfries and by Middleburg developer James J. Wilson in Nokesville.
In addition to live racing--20 days a year are proposed for the Dumfries site and as many as 90 in Nokesville--the tracks would be open for satellite betting nearly every day, a feature that promises the operators their biggest profits and has generated the biggest community opposition.
The Racing Commission, which must act on both license applications by Nov. 30 before a five-year referendum on parimutuel wagering expires, also will weigh the racetracks' projected attendance, parking, access and the financing behind each project, Bouker said.
The $20 million Dumfries track, proposed to be built on an 84-acre landfill in town, would seat 2,700 and have parking for 1,100 cars. Colonial Downs projects a daily attendance of 2,000, according to the license application.
The Nokesville track, planned for 220 acres, would seat 2,500 patrons and have 1,300 parking spaces.
The hearings are likely to draw heated crowds, as the proposals have spurred opposition groups in both communities.
Still unclear is whether the commission will agree to grant Wilson a license without the approval of Prince William's Board of County Supervisors, which won't consider the proposal until at least January.
The Wilson family still is hoping to gain an edge over the Nov. 30 deadline through a five-year extension of the referendum. When betting was approved by county voters in 1994, a clerical error by the Prince William County Circuit Court failed to issue a judge's order making the results official. The family claims the error should extend the order by five years. The court disagreed recently in a ruling, which the family has appealed.
The Sept. 15 public hearing on the Dumfries racetrack will be held at 10 a.m. at the A.J. Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Dr., in Woodbridge.
The hearing on the Nokesville track is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Best Western Battlefield Inn, 820 Balls Ford Rd., in Manassas.
Staff writer Libby Copeland contributed to this report.