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Northville Downs project in Plymouth Township nears approval

Posted By: Detroit Free Press on June 8, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

A new horseracing facility planned near the southwest corner of Five Mile and Ridge roads is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Plymouth Township Planning Commission unanimously approved at a special meeting June 1 a motion to send the site development plan to the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees for a final nod.

The board will review the final site plan and PUD contract, along with a community benefit agreement allowing public use of proposed soccer fields, pickleball courts and other amenities under specific guidelines.

Dubbed Northville Downs of Plymouth Township, the project is proposed on part of a 128-acre parcel near the southwest corner of Five Mile and Ridge roads. Plans include a half-mile oval harness racetrack, grandstand, racing building, horse barn and more.

Changes were made to building elevations since the May 3 meeting, when the planning commission sent the applicant back to the drawing board to make changes after commissioners said the building looked too industrial.

Township Planner Laura Haw said revised plans showed the building’s masonry component had been extended to the roofline along with the addition of windows and horizontal stone elements. Proposed signage was also added to the building.

Fire and emergency access issues, along with concerns over lighting, had also been corrected, Haw said.

Casino concerns

Throughout the approval process, residents have voiced concerns over the perceived potential for a future casino on the property.

A narrative provided by Northville Downs in January indicated an “anticipated future phase” of the project would include a 54,000-square-foot gaming facility, pending required legislative approval.

But Northville Downs owner John Carlo said in a phone call that the concept has been scrapped and no longer exists in the plan.

“What we were doing was setting the site up so that in the event that favorable legislation was passed in the state, the size and scope of what we would need would fit on the property,” Carlo said. “That was the intent, to say, ‘Will this fit if the legislation changes?’

“We’ve been trying to change the legislation for 25 years,” Carlo added, noting legislative changes are necessary before Northville Downs can implement practices used by the horseracing industry in surrounding states. “We’re going to continue to fight for it, but there’s no plans to build that 53,000-square-feet building, zero, whatsoever at this point.”

At the June 1 meeting, township attorney Kevin Bennett provided a summary of Michigan gambling laws, including the specific criteria under which a casino can operate.

“Both the Michigan Constitution and Initiated Law 1 of 1996 prohibit the operation of a casino in the Charter Township of Plymouth,” Bennett summarized, noting the law applies throughout the state. “The only way a casino would be authorized in the Charter Township of Plymouth is if it were approved in a statewide general election by both a majority of the voters in the state and a majority of voters in the Township.”

If an additional building is conceived for the project in the future, changes to the PUD agreement with Northville Downs would require the township and the applicant to start over at the beginning of the planning process, including a public hearing, Haw said.

Resident concerns

Like at each previous meeting, a stream of residents voiced various concerns about the project, including worry over road conditions in the area and the increase in traffic once the new facility opens.

Planning Commissioner Tim Boyd pointed out that a traffic study available on the township website indicates the facility will generate substantially less traffic than the eight buildings planned in the Ridge 5 industrial complex previously approved on the site. That plan was later abandoned by the developer.

“If you can believe (traffic study) numbers, and I’ll leave it up to you if you believe them, it generates about a tenth of the traffic those eight businesses would have generated,” Boyd said.

Residents spoke of other concerns, as well.

“More than the conditions of traffic, I wonder what we are doing to our community,” said Shirley Peters. “The ambiance of our community is being tainted by bring this racetrack to our community…I’m very concerned about the type of gambling that will occur.”

Plymouth Township resident Maryann Adams also took the podium and said she was not opposed to horseracing in general.

“You need a place to continue your livelihood and I’m not here to oppose what you do,” Adams said. “I am opposed to have this racetrack in my community. It is legitimate, but I don’t want it in my community.”

A representative from the nearby Oak Haven mobile home community submitted a letter outlining concerns that the project would negatively impact quality of life of residents and deter future residents.

Supervisor: ‘A very thorough process’

The plan will now return to the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees, which could potentially grant final approval. At a Feb. 23 meeting, Trustee Chuck Curmi urged a ‘no’ vote on the project, which moved ahead with a 6-1 vote.

Township Supervisor Kurt Heise said the project will not be on the board’s June 13 agenda, but it could be considered at the June 27 meeting. Although the planning commission has held two special meetings for the project, Heise said the township is not rushing the approval process.

“I think the desire is to have this as a standalone so we can be totally focused on that one issue, so we can really give it our, our due diligence in a special meeting setting,” Heise said. “And, we want to make sure that the public has the ability to speak at these events, which of course they always do.

“This has been and continues to be a very thorough process,” he added. “We are working very closely with the Northfield Downs development team, their engineer, their attorneys. They’re being thoroughly vetted under our local ordinances.

Heise also wanted to reiterate that there is no plan for a casino at the site.

“The most that they can ask for would be enhanced horse betting, with machines that would utilize this historical horse betting technology,” he said. “It’s something that’s well known within the industry.”

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