Thursday, December 21, 2023

Plymouth racetrack plan continues to prompt protests

A plan to bring a harness racing track to Plymouth Township continues to meet objections from the public and recently from the director of a new group called the Economic Development Responsibility Alliance (EDRA) of Michigan.

Marjorie Steele, the founder and executive director of the group, recently issued a statement noting that local residents continue to protest the plan to move Northville Downs harness track from the current location in downtown Northville to a 128-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Five Mile and Ridge roads in Plymouth Township. Plans for the new track were approved as a Planned Unit Development (PUD) by members of the planning commission in February. That approval expires in February of 2024.

Steele cites the concerns of local residents about “taxpayer subsidies for horseracing, crime, environmental destruction, traffic gridlock and harm to the local economy and property values.”

Northville Downs is the only operating live racing track in the state following a decline in interest and attendance at the racing events. Steele claims that simulcast races accounted for 96 percent of gambling activity at Northville Downs last year which, she says, proves that very little actual live horseracing takes place at the track. 

Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise has been publicly supportive of the track in the past, claiming the facility would be of benefit to the entire community as the property could be used for multiple community events while racing was not taking place. A vocal critic of the plan, Trustee John Stewart, says he finds no benefit in the proposal and strongly opposes the construction of the Northville Downs in Plymouth racetrack.

Steele claims that 1,200 residents of a group called Stop the Racetrack have signed a petition in protest of the plan. Despite repeated requests, the board members and Heise have not seen any petitions. Opposition organizers have overtly refused to share any such petitions with township officials despite Heise's requests, although several Stop the Racetrack lawn signs have been installed in area residents' lawns. During the Dec. 12 meeting of the board members, one resident told the trustees that people are losing interest in using animals in entertainment, “The American people are not interested in animals as entertainment and those ventures are declining for that reason,” he told the board. 

In her statement of protest, Steele said there are two elementary schools within 1.5 miles of the proposed racetrack which will be serving alcohol and have hours of 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Steele also claims that representatives of the Friends of the Rouge group are “deeply concerned about the impact of the proposed facility on Johnson Creek, which cuts directly through the site.”

Steele further alleges that Plymouth Township is unlikely to see any tax revenue from the facility for 10 years. Steele claims that the horse racing industry is involved in the widespread abuse and cruel treatment of horses and that state government “continues to subsidize this industry with taxpayer money.”

Heise has stated he has had no meaningful contact with Northville downs representatives since October. He said the developer could ask for an extension of the PUD approval after the Feb. 28 expiration. Heise said the February date would require a decision by township officials about the future of the proposed track.