Township trustees reject plan for Northville racetrack
In a decisive series of events, members of thePlymouth Township Board of Trustees shut down negotiations with Northville Downs to relocate a horseracing gambling track into the township. During a meeting Jan.23, board
member voted unanimously to rescind negotiations of the Planned Unit Development (PUD) of Northville Downs, followed by unanimous votes from the Planning Commission on the 29th to both rescind the PUD and to deny the contract’s extension. On Feb. 6, board members formally denied the Planned Unit Development (PUD) contract and
development plan, according to a prepared statement from officials at the Economic Development Responsibility Alliance (EDRA).
Residents of Plymouth Township have been raising concerns regarding the gambling facility at town meetings regularly for nearly a year; more than 1,300 have signed a grassro
ots petition to “Stop the Racetrack”.
During the initial Jan. 23 meeting, Township Supervisor Kurt Heise accused Northville Downs’ owners of operating in “bad faith”. Heise referred to the breakdown in negotiations over the community benefit agreement, in which he and the board sought to offset community opposition to the project with $5M in funding for community recreation. “We did some hard bargaining with them and we demanded a lot from them and they rejected it,” Heise reportedly said.
Attorneys representing Northville Downs accused the township board members of making “illegal requests for extra money” in mid January. Trustee John Stewart and Treasurer Bob Doroshewitz both acknowledged that the project wasn’t a good fit for the community.
During the Jan. 23 meeting, residents expressed concern regarding the initial dealings with Northville Downs, and warned they would continue to be vigilant. During public comments, resident Mary Ann Adams admitted the experience had left her “saddled with pessimism…(about) how this
development came to our community, pessimism about our local officials having residents’ best interests top of mind, and
pessimism about acting in good faith with residents.”
Resident Rena Ban scolded the board members: “Opposition to the project has continually grown, and has been made known to you in many different ways, including letting you know at almost every meeting for almost a year. The mishandling of the project has broken community trust, and highlighted the very valid concerns about their board, and the desire and need to have transparency, and accountability…I hope this vote means you have been listening.”
Northville Downs’ attorney has stated publicly that they are considering their legal options, but no legal action has been taken to date. However, residents aren’t convinced the fight is over yet. Meijer sued Plymouth Township last August for denying a special land use to build a large retail store and gas station, and late last month, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Brian
Sullivan ruled in favor of Meijer, allowing the development.
“We have continued to state publicly that this gambling facility is not welcome in our community,” said Adams, “and we will continue to monitor legislative activity and to lobby for changes in the outdated laws which put any Michigan community at risk for this type of gambling facility.”
As Northville Downs current location is now closed permanently, this may be the end of the harness horse racing gambling industry in Michigan.
“A dying, harmful business is not what the community wants for the future of their township, and I hope that you’ve heard that,”
Ban told the b members.
“Live horse races account for less than 4 percent of wagers at this facility,”
observed Adams, “ however it is still an industry with decades of decline and
controversy. This gambling facility contravenes our master plan…Northville Downs holds accountability for thinking it was okay to force itself onto our community without assessing overall residential sentiment–frankly business 101.”