Can Arlington Heights keep horse racing at track? Board hopes new rule will help.

Large warehouses or adult businesses? No.

Continued horse racing? Yes.

That's the declared preference of Arlington Heights' mayor, eight trustees, village manager and community development department staff members for what becomes of the 326 acres now home to Arlington Park.

The village board Monday night unanimously approved an ordinance banning owner Churchill Downs Inc. from placing a restrictive covenant tied to horse racing and gambling on the land — as part of the municipality's effort to preserve the option of those things under new property ownership.

The board also took initial steps on future zoning changes that would prohibit certain types of uses on the land. The 23-item list includes adult businesses, car washes, currency exchanges, kiddie parks, funeral parlors and wholesale offices, including warehouses and storerooms.

The votes come amid a June 15 deadline for developers to submit proposals to Churchill, which put the property up for sale in February. Village officials say they've been working with the Louisville-based corporation and its Chicago-based commercial real estate broker CBRE.

While Churchill brass will decide whom to sell to, Monday's actions make it clear that village officials plan to have some say in the process and what ultimately becomes of the sprawling property at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road.

“It really is incumbent upon us as a diligent village that has 326 acres of prime real estate up for sale within our borders that we take all necessary actions and precautions to ensure that a high quality development is redeveloped there,” said Mayor Tom Hayes. “We're trying to attract really serious investors that want to redevelop this very prime piece of real estate into something that's befitting of our community and the region.”

The restrictive covenant ban will prevent Churchill from seeking language in any potential land deal that bars the continued operation of horse racing at the track, or addition of other forms of gambling. Churchill might have been inclined to ink such a deal, in an effort to thwart any competition with its other property, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Buffalo Grove, Schaumburg and Chicago have also clamped down on certain restrictive covenants in recent years.

“It's kind of like the grocery store that gets abandoned by its grocer and yet they put a restriction the space can't be filled with any other grocery store,” said Trustee Robin LaBedz. “What we wanna make sure that when this property is sold that there is still a possibility of horse racing here. It's such a beautiful site. It's world renowned.”

The resolution on possible prohibited uses sets in motion a process to create an overlay zoning district for the massive site, which otherwise has a business district zoning classification. The plan commission will host a public hearing, before the zoning changes return to the village board for final review and approval.

“It's important to leave the door open that it could possibly remain a track because there's so many people who wanna see horse racing continue not only in the state of Illinois, but across our country,” said Trustee John Scaletta. “Hopefully somebody will come to Arlington Heights with a desire to continue horse racing.

“But if not, we've at least laid the groundwork of what it is that we are not looking for, and hopefully they come with a development that will be beneficial for the village of Arlington Heights because it is a very important piece of property.”

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