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Northville Downs Attorney Accuses Plymouth Township Of Demanding Illegal Cash Payments

Accusation comes before key deadline and after weather-induced race cancellations




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For months, Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise has battled unyielding criticism from residents of the quaint Detroit suburb concerning the proposed relocation of Northville Downs from its current location in a neighboring jurisdiction.

Now, Heise appears to be facing fire from all corners, as a Jan. 10 letter from a lawyer representing the racetrack’s owners accuses Plymouth Township of seeking to extract some $5 million in cash payments in exchange for approval of the property’s planned unit development (PUD) agreement.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the local news outlet Hometown Life, attorney Mike Cox claims that the sole issue preventing the PUD’s final approval is “the so-called ‘community benefits agreement’ through [which] the township sought, in addition to breakage payments, soccer fields and community events, direct cash payments equaling $5 million.”

Claiming that such a demand “violates not only the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, but also the Michigan Constitution and the United States Constitution,” Cox wrote, “The Township simply cannot willy-nilly charge Northville Downs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in cash payments in so-called ‘community benefits’ to obtain a PUD or to properly use its property, especially where it does not demand the same of other township property owners such as Saint John’s Inn or Kroger or the Grand Traverse Pie Company. More bluntly: The Township cannot sell land-use approval decisions.”

Heise, who said he would not provide further comment to MI Bets until after the township’s next Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 23, told Hometown Life last week, “The letter contains numerous factual and legal errors and other urban legends, which our attorney will address with Mr. Cox. This is really all about the Community Benefits Agreement. From the outset of negotiations, our board of trustees insisted on an agreement with Northville Downs to provide township residents with funding for recreation projects and guarantee future revenue sharing. I’m proud that we went to bat for our residents to seek these concessions.”

In his letter, Cox urged Plymouth Township to drop its requirement for a community benefits agreement and vote on the PUD at its Jan. 23 board meeting. Short of that, Cox called on the board to extend the deadline for the PUD to be approved by a full year.

As recently as June, the horse track’s relocation appeared a rubber stamp away from approval after Plymouth’s planning commission unanimously approved the PUD. Since then, however, opposition has ratcheted up and negotiations with Northville Downs’ owners have seen long periods of silence and inactivity.

Racing dates canceled due to weather

The kerfuffle between Plymouth officials and Northville’s owners comes after the Michigan Gaming Control Board had to cancel racing dates this past Friday and Saturday due to hazardous road conditions wrought by a forceful winter storm.

“It’s essential that we exercise caution to ensure the safety and well-being of the horses and all those involved in their care and administration of the harness races at Northville,” MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said in a press release. “Like yesterday, I have issued another order today that Saturday’s scheduled races are cancelled because of the weather.”

No determination has been made as to whether the canceled races will be rescheduled.

Photo: Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images