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Approval Of New Northville Downs Site Appears Imminent

Community benefit agreement among last remaining hurdles




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It took a little longer than some expected, but Northville Downs seems poised to have its relocation plans approved by Plymouth Township’s Board of Trustees, possibly as early as the end of June.

Late last week, Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise confirmed that the city’s Planning Commission had unanimously approved Northville Downs’ Planned Unit Development (PUD). This key hurdle was cleared after the horse track’s management had to amend its PUD a few times to satisfy concerns voiced by residents and commission members alike.

“There were probably about six or seven people in opposition. The arguments were based more on concerns about traffic, which we’ve addressed many different times,” Heise told MI Bets. “One of the things we’ve had to do here is educate people on what casino laws are in Michigan, because the opposition has said this is going to be a casino, which is absolutely not the case. It’s in our state constitution and it basically says we’re limited to three [commercial] casinos, all in the city of Detroit.”

Northville’s ongoing 2023 standardbred meet will be the final one run at the harness track’s original location a few miles down the road in suburban Detroit. Operated since 1944 by the Carlo family, the property the racetrack currently sits on was sold to a housing developer in 2018.

Soccer on the infield?

While final approval by Plymouth Township’s Board of Trustees looks very likely at this point, there are a few issues left to tie a ribbon around. Heise said there are “some engineering and policy tweaks we need to make to the PUD that are not fatal.”

The track and Plymouth Township must also come to terms on a community benefit agreement, which could include additional parimutuel dollars directed to the city, the willingness to host concerts and other civic events, and on-site amenities such as pickleball courts.

An infield with youth soccer fields instead of the usual grass and water features is also on the table, with rural Oregon’s Grants Pass Downs providing an example of how to effectively incorporate such a public use.

“These are maybe some new ideas they didn’t think of before,” Heise said. “When you’ve been in business for 79 years at the same site, you get used to a certain way of doing things.”

Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images