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Thread: Small town opposition to economic development

  1. #1
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    Small town opposition to economic development

    I get to spend several hours tonight getting to listen to residents bicker about this:
    Windsor to hear racetrack pros, cons
    Zoning meeting tonight expected to draw large crowd
    By Sally Trout
    Lansing State Journal

    WINDSOR TWP. - A proposed $85 million equestrian center, thoroughbred racetrack with simulcast betting and entertainment complex is riding on a special-use permit application.
    Windsor Township Planning Commission is holding a public hearing today on the application.
    Eaton Rapids developer Dorian Lange optioned 199 acres of industrially zoned land for the complex, to be known as Michigan Horse Park, at Interstate 69 and Lansing Road.
    But some nearby residents such as Richard and Judy Dahlgren, who own a six-generation family farm, are fighting the plan they say will bring noise, lights, traffic and lower land values.
    "We have rallied the troops," said Judy Dahlgren of Friends of Windsor Charter Township. "Our goal is to stop this development, not just delay it."
    Attorney Denise LaFave Smith is representing the group in this fight.
    "I grew up in Potterville and I oppose this development, not only because it is not economically feasible, but because of how the gambling component will change the character of the area," Smith said.

    While more than 100 nearby residents signed an opposition petition, Lange says there are more in Eaton County who favor the park.
    "This park will be the best mousetrap for horses in the Midwest, if not the United States," Lange said.
    "With the 200-room hotel and entertainment venue, it will be a huge draw for Michigan."
    He hopes to have construction under way this fall and open a year later.
    When open, the park will provide 500 jobs, Lange said.
    His plans also provide space for 1,100 horses, a veterinary hospital and a horse museum.
    A colosseum will cater to youth and horse-related activities, conventions, entertainment - even social events such as weddings.
    These are all things Dean and Michelle Frazier feel will be good for the area.
    "This will be a beautiful complex and bring much needed jobs to the community," said Dean Frazier, who lives 300 feet from the site.
    For his wife, Michelle, the horse park is more appealing than a possible industrial development.
    "I'd much rather look across at the horse park, than all the noise, lights and traffic from a factory," she said.

    Anticipating a large crowd for the hearing, Windsor Township Clerk Linda Towsley changed the meeting site to the Dimondale Presbyterian Church.
    "It's possible, but unlikely the Planning Commission will make any decision Wednesday night," Towsley said.
    Typically, it takes 60 to 90 days to get a permit through the planners and township board requirements.

    Here are some Michigan horse racing track facts:
    Michigan Racing Commission approved Dorian Lange's track license in October 2004.
    It is the eighth track license issued in the state and was the first new one since 1984.
    On May 17, a ninth license went to MI Racing Inc., for a track in Romulus.
    Great Lakes Downs near Muskegon is Michigan's only operating all-thoroughbred track.
    Other Michigan tracks are in Hazel Park, Jackson, Mt. Pleasant, Muskegon, Northville, Saginaw, Swartz Creek.
    While I work for the county that Windsor Twp. is in, they are chartered and have the distinct right to govern themselves in my sandbox. From an economic development standpoint it is hard to argue against an $85 million dollar investment into the area and a 500 jobs ( I was born at night, but not last night - realistically this is more like 250, but still). What do you think?
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  2. #2

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    Some additional information about what the developers are going to do for the community might help (though I can guess that a township like this is not prepared to extract nearly enough), but it is just a reality that folks in the immediate area will contend with all of the negative externalities of this project, while people who don't have to cope with the problems will reap virtually all of the benefits. Even the argument that property values will increase does nothing to help folks who just want to enjoy their community - unless they decide to sell out and leave, they will end up paying higher taxes, putting up with more traffic, etc.

    I also question whether such an out-of-scale project IS economic development in any meaningful sense. This does not appear to be based on any local asset other than the availability of land and an interstate exchange (which among other things means that the construction and work forces can commute in from elsewhere). We have had this discussion on Cyburbia before, but the number of jobs per se is not a reasonable way to measure economic development. The real questions are about what this will do for local incomes, and whether this will this build the community's capacity to sustain itself? Or is it just "landing (like a flying saucer) there?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    The site is zoned light industrial with interstate frontage and rail on the rear of the property. So other possible uses could be warehouse/distribution/sequencing, light mfg, and such. This development has the potential to be an anchor and ensure of growth in an area that would otherwise become "something" relatively ugly or unattractive. The developer would be responsible for public utilities that may or may not need upgrading...I am sure they will be on the hook for all of that.

    I recognize that jobs per se is not the way to totally (it is one part of a bigger equation) measure economic development. I am not in the business to bring jobs to my county for the sake of bringing jobs or to point to that number and say "see look what I did to the economy!" This will be the asset of the community. It could signify the start of some thoughtfully planned residential, retail, or commercial area (btw, thoughtfully planned is a foreign concept here).

    What helped me understand that this was not going to be like a traditional race track/racino type of development was hearing from the state that they can only race a handful (around 20) dates per year. The total development is really based on a convention, show, entertainment style of venue which is something this area could benefit from.
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    For a very long time, Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon failed to live up to even modest expectations, and from what I understand has scaled back its racing schedule over the years to reflect reality of a very limited base of gambling. It was conceived as a means to capture the attention and dollars of the west side of the state, but there needs to be more action in the area to attact that type or regional traffic.

    Lansing has more going on, but will be competing with the casinos in Detroit/windsor, as well as Mt Pleasant for a shrinking market area.

    My personal slant on racetracks (or any other gambling for that matter) is only a short-lived economic engine. More like a mirage... They wouldn't build the tracks or casinos if the net result isn't to suck money OUT of the local economy. And I'm not an anti-gambling zealot, just feel that it only nets out as a benefit to the license holder for the track, long run.

    I agree with a previous poster that in order for it to work, and to not net out at a negative for the local economy, the township will need to extract enough concessions to account for the net loss in discretionary income. Not just paying their own freight on infrastructure improvements, but paying for the ultimate sprawl that it may lead to (gambling tax, parking / hotel room tax, etc.)

    As far as a generator of development, the track in Muskegon has had some some additional "sprawl" take place near it, not because of the track, but rather despite it. Located near the interchange of I-96 and US-31, the track was built and for a long time was the only thing going on in the area. As the retail economy in the downtown Muskegon area was dying, the area near the track became home to several strip malls and a semi-successful enclosed mall.

    Now that the retail has sprung up near the track, there may now be a more mutually beneficial relationship between the horse track and the adjacent (1/2 mile ) restaurants. But for a long time it (Great Lakes Downs) was the only thing going on in the area. As far as a convention center, think "third tier" type of conventions ( home/garden expos, swap meets).

    Does that "guy on horseback" still sell cars/mobile homes in Lansing?. Maybe they'll use for their big sales events. Seems like a natural fit. (former resident/MSU student)

  5. #5
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    The guy on horseback selling cars (if we are talking about Sundance Chevrolet) is actually the owner of the 199 acres being sold to the developer.
    irony
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dogandpony
    ...They wouldn't build the tracks or casinos if the net result isn't to suck money OUT of the local economy....
    You don't get rich sucking the money out of a rural township. This development is intended to draw people from places like Chicago, Detroit, and Toledo. It is importing money into the local economy, and while some of it will go to investors thousands of miles away, some is also going into local wages, local trucking companies, local bakers, etc. Visitors will also be spending their funds (and paying taxes) in area restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and shops. It is likely that the area will see pressure to develop more of these, and that is where I see the need to give the project some thought.

    This community has identified the parcel as an industrial zone. Presumably, it has an economic development objective to create a manufacturing (and office?) based economy. If this project goes forward and is successful, the economy that evolves is likely to be based on tourism and services instead. These jobs may pay just as well as manufacturing, or perhaps not. These businesses may generate more property value and sales, and hence more taxes, or they may not. This economy may prove to be more stable and sustainable than manufacturing, or then again, maybe it won't. This project may cause roads to become congested, but manufacturing might do the same. These are the sort of things that people need to consider.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    I think you hit it right on the head cardinal. The Lansing area of Michigan is losing its manufacturing jobs. I like the alternative and economic diversity that this development could potentially make happen.
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    You don't get rich sucking the money out of a rural township. This development is intended to draw people from places like Chicago, Detroit, and Toledo. .

    This isn't a rural township, its part of the Lansing metro area. My guess is that it will cater 75 percent to Lansing area residents (and their wages), and 25 percent to "other". Out of towners will be the horsemen (racehorse owners) for the most part...

    As for Chicago, forget about it. Detroit, maybe, but again, you're competing with casinos there. Toledo? are they actually claiming Toledo to be part of their market?
    Last edited by dogandpony; 08 Jun 2005 at 10:59 PM.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    I am off to the public hearing now. I will let you know how it goes. I don't expect any action tonight - although it could happen.
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    Well the 3 hour public hearing went well, all things considered. There was one small group of citizens determined to not let the development happen. There was a few thoughtful comments on both sides but much of the 3 hour period was filled with the same, redundant, dilatory, analogous (did you catch that) comments. No action was taken. My gut feeling is that the planning commission will approve the special use permit and send it to the township's general board.
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dogandpony
    This isn't a rural township, its part of the Lansing metro area. My guess is that it will cater 75 percent to Lansing area residents (and their wages), and 25 percent to "other". Out of towners will be the horsemen (racehorse owners) for the most part...

    As for Chicago, forget about it. Detroit, maybe, but again, you're competing with casinos there. Toledo? are they actually claiming Toledo to be part of their market?
    I have to agree that there needs to be a strong distinction between a 'small town' in the sense that it would be an isolated, middle-of-nowhere place with 500-1K residents and a suburban/exurban township that is part of a much larger metro area, where except for the artificial lines drawn on the official maps, it is indistinguishable from the rest of the metro area's urban/suburban morass.

    Mike

  12. #12
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    Michigan Horse Park

    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    I have to agree that there needs to be a strong distinction between a 'small town' in the sense that it would be an isolated, middle-of-nowhere place with 500-1K residents and a suburban/exurban township that is part of a much larger metro area, where except for the artificial lines drawn on the official maps, it is indistinguishable from the rest of the metro area's urban/suburban morass.

    Mike
    The next meeting of the Township Planning Board is Wednesday, July 13th. It is correct that the property is zoned industrial & is presently owned by Sundance. The citizens that are strongly opposed to the building of the horse park want the property to remain as it currently is ~ hay field & woods. They fail to understand that a sale of the property will occur & the property will change ~ whether to a horse park or whether a manufacturing warehouse, etc. I feel that jobs will be created as a result of this park & it will remain as closely agriculture as possible in view of all possible options.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally posted by michiganplanner
    Well the 3 hour public hearing went well, all things considered. There was one small group of citizens determined to not let the development happen. There was a few thoughtful comments on both sides but much of the 3 hour period was filled with the same, redundant, dilatory, analogous (did you catch that) comments. No action was taken. My gut feeling is that the planning commission will approve the special use permit and send it to the township's general board.
    So did you attend the meeting last night? How did it go?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    Originally posted by MurphysMom
    So did you attend the meeting last night? How did it go?
    I spoke with the Township clerk earlier and she said that the commission is waiting for the resluts of some reports. I imagine they are a traffic study and an economic impact report, etc. They are holding a special meeting Aug.4 where they need to make a decision as the 60 day window from the day that the public hearing takes places expires before their next regularly scheduled planning commission meeting. I did not attend the meeting, but I heard it was not nearly as lively as the hearing (naturally).
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian thinknik's avatar
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    Township leaders should think long and hard before replacing manufacturing jobs with low paying retail - restaurant - tourism jobs.
    If they choose to make that decision anyway, have they planned for a large supply of affordable "workforce" housing?

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