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Plymouth Township Board Votes To Kill Proposed Northville Downs Relocation

If rejection sticks, it will spell the end of commercial horse racing in Michigan




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Horses in funeral

Michiganders may soon have their last opportunity to witness a live horse race in the state if a decision Tuesday by Plymouth Township’s Board of Trustees holds firm.

The board voted 6-0 to end negotiations with Northville Downs’ owners to relocate the track, which is currently located in Northville Township, a few miles away to a parcel it owns on Five Mile Road.

Northville Downs, the state’s last remaining commercial horse racetrack, can still legally ask for a time extension to continue negotiating with Plymouth’s planning commission. But as Supervisor Kurt Heise, who’d supported the relocation until recently, told the local news outlet Hometown Life, “I don’t see any path to reopening these discussions. I think we’ve made a decision that discussions are over. We’ve withdrawn their application, and I anticipate that their time extension will be denied.

“Part of the rationale is that Northville Downs has not negotiated in good faith. When you say someone is acting in bad faith, in the context of the Michigan zoning code, there are legal and procedural implications to that.”

Things were going smoothly, until they weren’t

The board’s decision comes after a roller-coaster year in which the track’s relocation appeared on the brink of approval, only to be suddenly met with staunch local opposition that led to occasionally nasty exchanges with elected officials like Heise.

More profoundly, however, the vote could be viewed as a touché response to the track’s attorney recently accusing Plymouth officials of demanding illegal cash payments in exchange for final approval of the project.

Northville Downs recently announced that its last day of harness racing at the current facility, which dates back to 1944, would be run on Feb. 3. The way things are looking now, that may be the final opportunity Michiganders have to witness a live horse race without leaving the state.

Photo: Max Mumby/Getty Images