ROWLEY — A Dodge Road resident wants selectmen to take a deliberate approach when they review plans for a horse racing track proposed on 284 acres in town.

The Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is partnering with investment firm Rowley Group LLC to obtain approval for a $60 million racetrack on land between the Rowley police station and Rowley Country Club.

Robert Barrows, a town resident for eight years, said the proposed racetrack has the potential to change Rowley dramatically because of its size and the fact it would be a gambling venue.

“I can’t fathom how the town would even contemplate this,” Barrows said. “At first, I kind of laughed at the idea. How would anybody even think of putting this type of venue in a place that backs up against all of these neighborhoods? This is where we walk down the street for Halloween and we can almost walk all the way down to the police station.”

The proposal has yet to reach the town’s planning process. A public meeting on the matter was scheduled for Sept. 23 at Town Hall but postponed because the crowd exceeded the meeting room’s capacity. 

Attorney Robert Scarano, William Lagorio of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Rowley Group managing member John Grossi are now scheduled to unveil their plans to selectmen during a meeting at Pine Grove Elementary School on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

Barrows, a business manager by trade, said he was at the Sept. 23 meeting and still has many questions about the proposed project.

“Coming from a business background, I know that one decision is going to happen, no matter what,” Barrows said. “I want to make sure, no matter what the decision happens to be, that the proper assessment is done. The proper research and setting up the stage, one way or the other, to ensure that the town knows this is the best decision, from a tax perspective and from an impact perspective, the impact on people’s lives.”

Barrows contacted state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and state Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, whose districts include Rowley.

Barrows said Hill has offered to bring the Massachusetts Gaming Committee and Racing Commission together with selectmen to review their processes. Barrows said Tarr’s office has met with the track’s investors to hear details of the project and is also looking at any legislation that may affect the plan.

Because the racetrack would be gambling venue, Barrows said he believes Rowley voters should weigh in on whether they approve of such an establishment.

“I’m trying to tell the town that you have a lot of homework to do before you even listen to this specific proposal for this specific piece of land,” Barrows said. “Everyone is trying to treat it like a zoning issue, but I think there is so much more to do than just that.”

A potential town casino and racetrack advisory committee would be the best way to approach the beginning of any such project, according to Barrows.

“Let’s go talk to the investors and the private interests and see if maybe there is a better place for this,” he said. “I think that is kind of Phase 1 for the town. Then, if it is approved, we can assess it. Just from the tax implications, if we make the wrong decision, the town could be setting themselves up for a failure and not even knowing it.”

Selectmen Chairman Clifford Pierce said Monday it’s too soon to decide whether to create a town commission.

“That is an idea that we might do in the future,“ Pierce said. “Right now, we really have to find out more about it.

“We are really in the very infant stages of this and, if anything is going to become of this, we have to go to the Planning Board for a zoning change. That would be a public meeting held probably in February or January,” he said. “Then, at the very earliest, it would go to be voted on at Town Meeting in May. Then, if the zoning bylaw is approved, it will go back to the Planning Board for a special permit.”

Barrows said he wants to make sure the town has a long-term plan in place to do what is in its best interests.

“Rowley has been around for nearly 400 years and this would be a huge change,” Barrows said. “I just want to get the facts. That is my biggest driver. I am not out there saying, ‘No, no, no.’ I am saying, ‘I want to learn more about this.’”

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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