Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Northville Downs developer sues Plymouth Township


The second lawsuit contesting development decisions in Plymouth Township may not be as “friendly” as the settlement agreement which ended the lawsuit filed by Meijer last year.

Last month, developers of Northville Downs filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Detroit demanding $10 million from the township alleging township officials “aggressively” induced the owners to construct a new facility in Plymouth.

The Meijer lawsuit was filed after the company was denied a permit from the members of the planning commission for a new 159,000 square-foot store on Five Mile Road, west of Home Depot. A Jan. 18 consent agreement 

approved by the court will allow the construction of the new store in exchange for concessions to the township including a $100,000 contribution to the township tree fund.

The latest federal suit, however, is more contentious. According to the court filings, township officials rejected the project after racetrack developers purchased 125 acres of property in the township, based on assurances by Supervisor Kurt Heise and Township Economic Director Gary Heitman. The filings claim township officials placed unconstitutional conditions on required permits and that “extortionate conditions” were imposed not relevant to the harness racing track. The 

lawsuit alleges the demands of township officials for specific conditions, including a community benefits agreement, are illegal and contrary to the Michigan Horse Racing Law of 1995, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, the Township Zoning Ordinance, as well as the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions. The racetrack developers are also requesting the court to invalidate the township denial of the racetrack development plan, without including the negotiated community benefits agreement.

“The Township made extravagant, unlawful, and unconstitutional demands for $5,000,000 in cash, drone shows, soccer fields, pickleball courts, and other items worth millions more to obtain regulatory approval for NVD (Northville Downs),” the federal filing claims.

Northville Downs, the only horse racing track in the state, closed the facility in downtown Northville earlier this year. The track, operating for 80 years, was owned by the Carlo family.  The former racetrack property on Seven Mile and Sheldon Road is the site of a proposed $300 million redevelopment project.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit sought approval for a new track at Five Mile and Ridge roads. After more than a year of negotiations, members of the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees voted in January to terminate the project. Heise accused the developers of negotiating “in bad faith” regarding the community benefits agreement which was included as a condition for the Planned Urban Development (PUD) permit the developers were seeking.

Following the court filing seeking redress, Heise reportedly told media sources that these community benefit agreements are common, particularly when a development project might be socially disruptive. He admitted the Northville Downs development was the first in the township to require such an agreement.

He called the lawsuit “outrageous” and said the developers would not find a solution in federal court. Heise added that the township will vigorously defend the community benefits agreement and other conditions in court.

Court fillings allege that Heise and Heitman “aggressively” pursued the racetrack project and promised approvals of required permits “within 90 days.”

Heise claims the racetrack project was handled in the same manner as any other business and that the required community benefits agreement was discussed from the onset of discussions. He said the agreement was an effort to demonstrate a benefit to the community from the project. He said the breakage fees, or the difference between winning better’s payouts and the nearest dime, under Michigan’s Horse Racing Law of 1995 would have generated $3 million for recreation and public safety in the township.

Both the Meijer and racetrack projects met with strong objections from township residents during regular meetings of the board of trustees.

According to the settlement agreement in the Meijer lawsuit, construction of the new complex will begin this spring. The project will include a pharmacy and garden center, as well as a separate 3,300-square-foot convenience store with a gas station on part of a 21-acre parcel of property.

The land is part of the Michigan International Technology Center corridor and owned by Redico Holdings, which has a purchase agreement with Meijer for the property. Specifics of the settlement include a $100,000 contribution from Meijer and Redico to the township tree fund, construction of an 8-foot concrete bike path adjacent to Five Mile, and other sustainability design features. Meijer will also contribute to the Five Mile Road reconstruction project as part of the settlement.

No court date for the Northville Downs suit has been scheduled.