The N.J. Racing Commission has decided to make public the application for an off-track wagering facility in Hillsborough.
After final public comments were received by Thursday’s deadline, there was nothing new that required investigation, so the commission decided to make the application subject to Open Public Records Act requests, said Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the commission.
The state’s sixth off-track wagering facility is proposed for a former restaurant on Route 206 at Park Avenue, just south of Brown Avenue.
The commission held a required public hearing in Hillsborough on July22. Members of the public, as well as Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Hillsborough Mayor Douglas Tomson, pressed the commission to make the document public.
Mr. Zanzuccki said Friday the commission heard the public “loud and clearly” and after the investigation was closed saw no reason not to open access to the application. On Friday afternoon, there had been three requests, he said — one from the mayor, one from the township government for both a printed and electronic copy, and one from an individual.
Under the OPRA law, the commission has up to seven days to honor a request and charge a fee for photocopies.
Mr. Tomson said he would stop at the Trenton offices of the commission on Monday and pore through the 500-page document. He was hopeful he would get a printed copy, too, he said, and repeated his pledge to scan and post the document on the township web site as soon as possible.
The OTW would be called “Favorites at Hillsborough Township” and have separate but connected restaurant and wagering areas. There would be simulcasts of standardbred and thoroughbred horse racing from around the country most days of the year. A $20 million annual handle is projected.
The Racing Commission must act on the request between 30 to 60 days from July 30. The commission is likely to address the application at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at Monmouth Park, said Mr. Zanzuccki.
Mr. Ciattarelli said in a statement, “While the public comment period has ended, the Racing Commission made the right decision to allow the public to review the developer’s application. The OTW approval process has been more than frustrating and the lack of transparency has only added insult to injury.
“The decision to release the application, though late in coming, is a positive development,” said Mr. Ciattarelli. “Like any other application that goes before a local land use board, citizens should be allowed to review this OTW application.”
Last year, Mr. Ciattarelli introduced legislation (A-3127) that would reverse a section of law changed in 2011 that eliminates a municipality’s right to have the final say whether an off-track wagering business could operate within its borders.
The bill, co-sponsored by Mr. Ciattarelli’s district colleagues, Senator “Kip” Bateman and Assemblywoman Donna Simon, restores the ability of municipalities to reject a proposed off-track wagering facility, and to remove the five-year tax exemption, abatement, or payment in lieu of taxes for privately operated off-track wagering facilities. The bill has not advanced.
“Home rule empowers communities to have a say in what happens in their town and should be respected,” Mayor Tomson said in a statement, “Permitting an OTW facility to operate in Hillsborough, or any town, should be decided by the municipality, not the Racing Commission. This may work in some towns, but not necessarily in Hillsborough. I appreciate the commission disclosing the application so the public can examine it thoroughly.”