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Published on February 29, 2024
Northville Downs Files $10 Million Suit Against Plymouth Township Over Permit DisputeSource: Northville Downs

A legal slugfest has erupted as Northville Downs, Michigan's last standing horse racing track, files a $10 million lawsuit against Plymouth Charter Township, accusing it of setting "unconstitutional conditions" on their land-use permit and demanding extortionate community benefits, as reported by The Detroit News. The legal complaint, which surfaced amid the shutdown of Northville Downs' former facility in downtown Northville due to proposed redevelopment, insists that the Township's requirements violate Michigan's Horse Racing Law and other legal statutes; the lawsuit describes extravagant demands from the Township—including $5 million in cash, drone shows, and soccer fields.

Following the lawsuit's filing in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise expressed disappointment in an interview obtained by ClickOnDetroit calling the situation a "very disappointing development," while defending the requirement for a community benefits agreement especially when dealing with a potentially socially disruptive project like a gaming facility; the Township argues that Northville Downs' allegations are baseless and that the company will not find what it's looking for in the federal court, they also dispute the amount demanded in benefits insisting the figure was indeed $3 million, not $5 million.  

In a detailed account shared by Hometown Life, the lawsuit paints a picture of the Township's officials courting the race track's owners with the promise of swift approvals and ultimately reneging, with the added twist that Heise allegedly assured votes in the Carlo brothers' favor during the approval process, all to no avail when negotiations fell through over the community benefits agreement. Former Michigan attorney general and the Carlo family's lawyer, Mike Cox, called the municipality's efforts "a shake down," accusing it of attempting to sell regulatory approval, which he points out is not how things are done in America.

The case has yet to be ruled upon, but Northville Downs remains adamant about the unfair treatment they've received, as the request for benefits including annual Fourth of July drone shows, pickleball courts, youth soccer fields, and maintenance costs for these projects would inflate their expenses significantly, and was something the lawsuit claims is not typically asked of other businesses, arguments that Heise disputes suggesting instead that Northville Downs never intended to follow through with building the facility proposed in Plymouth Township; Cox, meanwhile, asserts his clients are committed to the Plymouth Township location, as they seek more than just damages—they are contending for a court order to allow the development to proceed without the community benefits agreement and for compensation related to the township's alleged taking of their property.