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Mount Airy Casino seems to be different fit for rural Big Be

edit:casino time:2019-01-10

Residents and officials want to make sure that development of Mount Airy Pittsburgh doesn't jeopardize the borough's rural nature.

BIG BEAVER — It seems like a massive dichotomy — ringing slot machines and raucous sports fans hoping to hit the jackpot nestled among thousands of acres of rural farmland.

That's the premise for Mount Airy Pittsburgh: 750 slot machines, 30 table games, sports betting and a smattering of restaurants on a 100-acre swath of land just off of two major interstates. Mount Airy Casino Resort officials believe it can happen, and local officials say they are confident that the borough isn't gambling away its rural nature to comingle with progress.

"We are a rural community," said Jason Landsbach, president of Big Beaver Council. "We're so rural you can't believe it. You fly over and all you see is greenspace, and now and again civilization breaks out."

Landsbach is a fourth-generation Big Beaver resident, but he bucks a stereotype. He respects the borough's history and wants to preserve its nature. But he also has been waiting a long time for some growth.

Landsbach has been on council for about 25 years. He remembers 1992, when Interstate 376 came through the borough.

"When Route 60 as we call it — we don't change quickly here — when it opened, it was like the heavens had opened up," Landsbach told members of the state Gaming Control Board on Tuesday at a public hearing for the proposed mini-casino at the intersection of Shenango Road and Fairlane Boulevard. "That was opened in 1992. And so we have been trying for years to get something. We had to get the infrastructure into place, and the time keeps on slipping into the future, as the song goes."

Landsbach has a way with words, but he doesn't mince any when it comes to protecting his community. He's made it clear that council will have the final say in what concessions the community has to make for the casino to come to town.

The borough stands to gain a lot — $400,000 per year, to be exact. That tax revenue is half of the borough's budget, the maximum allowed under state gambling laws. But local laws can dictate zoning, and Big Beaver has been preparing for years for some sort of major development to take advantage of the apex of Interstate 376 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Some residents have their own concerns.

Martin Morris lives on Foxwood Road and has no doubt that Mount Airy will bring growth and development to his hometown. He lives about a mile from the proposed site, and he knows that there's a major difference between interstate traffic and the backroads that frequently see more farm equipment than cars.

"There is an unknown risk that the casino operation may not be compatible with the adjacent rural zone, which is largely farmland, agricultural and livestock with farm vehicles traveling slowly along rural country roads," Morris said.

Country roads, take me home indeed.

When Mount Airy conducted its traffic studies, it focused on Shenango Road, Beaver Valley Road and the proposed site driveway, Fairlane Boulevard — also known as State Route 351 — and the ramps from both interstates.

What it didn't consider was if traffic patterns will change on smaller roads, like Foxwood and Careywood roads. Morris has a hunch that it will.

"These can be used and I believe will be used as alternate routes for folks going to and from the casino," he said.

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