Manassas city leaders joined Prince William County supervisors this week in urging Manassas Park voters to reject off-track betting in a Nov. 2 referendum.
Manassas Park officials dismissed their concerns.
Arguing that a betting parlor would offer no benefit to Manassas and could tarnish the area's family-friendly image, Manassas City Council members unanimously passed a resolution Monday night opposing a proposal on parimutuel wagering in Manassas Park.
Such resolutions are baseless attempts to tell Manassas Park voters what to do and should be disregarded, Manassas Park Mayor F.C. "Frank" Jones Jr. said.
Colonial Downs, a racetrack operator based in New Kent County, Va., is asking Manassas Park voters to support the proposal and is lobbying residents with mailings, signs and public appearances. The campaign is one of five the company is conducting throughout Virginia. It is the second time Colonial Downs has gotten the issue before Manassas Park voters. Voters rejected a similar proposal in 1996 by 74 votes.
The squabbling among local jurisdictions began in September. The Prince William Board of County Supervisors took a position against the proposal on the grounds that a betting parlor would add to the area's traffic, promote behavior harmful to families and possibly increase crime, among other side effects.
In a four-page letter, Manassas Park leaders asked supervisors to prove their charges. Jones said he has yet to receive a response.
On Tuesday night, he urged Manassas Park voters to decide for themselves.
"I urge each of you to make up your own mind and not be influenced by the perspectives of people who do not live in the city, who do not contribute a penny to the sustainment of our community and who have certainly not sought your concurrence as development has occurred in their locality which has impacted your quality of life and resulted in significant traffic increases," he said.
Jones and Manassas Park City Council members have stayed officially neutral on the proposal. As private citizens, however, several top city officials signed a petition to put the item on the ballot. City Council member Noreen C. Slater petitioned Prince William County Circuit Court to allow Manassas Park to hold the referendum. Slater's son, Jonathan, is campaign coordinator for Colonial Downs.
An opponent of gambling, Mayor Douglas S. Waldron (R) said the resolution's purpose was to let Manassas Park voters know where Manassas's leadership stands, in a neighborly way. He said many residents have approached him asking what he thinks.
"In [Manassas], any time someone wants to build or renovate their property, they have to let their neighbors know," Waldron said. "We hold public hearings. We, as a city, invite your input. We want to know what you think. We're a neighbor of Manassas Park . . . and I think we're certainly within our bounds to let our neighbors know how we feel on this."
The resolution was not designed to be acrimonious, antagonistic, self-righteous or moralistic, he said. "It's just basically talking about the image of the region and letting [Manassas Park voters] know . . . we don't think it's a good idea," he said.
But Chris Bridge, Colonial Downs' director of referendum campaigns, said she would like to see any evidence that other betting parlors have hurt the reputations of jurisdictions elsewhere.
Waldron said that image is difficult to quantify.
"Image is like art; it's in the eye of the beholder," he said. "It's based on the view of the majority of citizens."
He said it's the job of leaders to talk about and define image.
Meanwhile, Colonial Downs is moving ahead. Company officials said they signed a lease last week to take over Manassas Park Shopping Center's Capital Furniture store at Route 28 and Manassas Drive.
Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart said the company might spend as much as $3.8 million renovating the 20,000-square-foot site. Stewart said the betting parlor would contribute $558,000 in annual tax revenues to Manassas Park.
"It's hard to find any local jurisdiction that couldn't use the extra revenues right now," Bridge said.
Manassas City Council member Judith S. Hays (R) echoed the sentiments of several local opponents in her skepticism toward Colonial Downs' projections.
"I don't know that the little bit of revenue that Manassas Park would gain would be worth the hassles involved and some of the other social costs or the financial costs or whatever," Hays said.
The decision will be up to Manassas Park voters, Hays said. Nonetheless, she voiced her displeasure.
"The whole idea of economic development is to attract businesses that offer something to your locality, that enhance, that give some value added. . . . That may be in terms of revenue or image," she said. "I think there is a sleaze factor with off-track betting."