Dixon Downs Moves to a Vote
Solano City Will Hold Public Hearings on Proposed Racetrack and Retail Center.
By Pamela Martineau -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, September 6, 2006
The proposed $250 million Dixon Downs -- which developers say would be the first horse-racing track built in California in 70 years -- is entering the home stretch in its approval process.
The city of Dixon will open a series of final public hearings this month on the controversial 260- acre track and upscale retail center proposed along Interstate 80 at Pedrick Road.
Officials expect the City Council to vote on the project by late October, six years after Magna Entertainment Corp. first introduced the plan.
Up to 12 public hearings of Dixon's planning commission and City Council are scheduled. City officials say they want the community to weigh in on every conceivable impact the project might have on the Solano County town and whether the developers have addressed those impacts adequately.
"We want people to hear what (the project) is and is not," said Dixon Mayor Mary Ann Courville.
But ultimately, it may be Dixon voters who determine the racetrack's fate.
Opponents say they will collect enough signatures to place the issue before voters in a special election next spring if the City Council approves it in October.
The council in May voted against putting an advisory vote on the November ballot.
"We're gearing up for a referendum," said Stephen Sikes, a member of Dixon Citizens for Responsible Growth, a grass-roots group opposed to the project. Members say the project will wreck Dixon's small-town ambience and bring traffic and pollution. Many detractors oppose the gambling at the facility.
Former Dixon Mayor Marime Burton, an opponent, believes the project is "too big and too much."
"I'm very worried about the traffic, and I'm very worried about what it will do to our community," Burton said.
Proponents say the racetrack will enhance the town with a new entertainment venue, bringing more visitors and more business to local vendors. The Dixon Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association support the project.
"I really think it will be beneficial to the city," said Jamie Meville, a hairstylist at Images on You, a salon in Dixon's historic downtown.
"If we don't get it, someone else will," Meville added.
Courville said she thinks the city is split 50-50 between supporters and opponents.
Last week Magna -- considered one of the world's premier horse racing companies -- released a preliminary development agreement that outlines ways Dixon may be compensated for some of the project's impacts.
The proposed agreement says developers would make up to $25 million in road and infrastructure improvements in the northeast quadrant of the city where the project is proposed. Dixon also would receive an undisclosed percentage of the wagering done at the track, as well as 1 percent of the facility's profits -- to be donated to a charitable fund.
To mitigate traffic impacts, developers have agreed to build new auxiliary highway lanes for a half-mile in each direction on Interstate 80 near Pedrick Road.
On-site housing for trainers and groomers of the thoroughbred horses would be built at the track. Magna would pay about $90,000 in transient occupancy tax annually to the city for those workers' housing.
Magna says the track and accompanying retail center and office park would be a boon for Dixon and help jump-start development in an area of the city that Dixon planners had zoned for light industrial projects. It is now agricultural land.
The developers say other communities would love to have the track and would offer incentives.
"There are communities that would absolutely love to have this project," said John O'Farrell, the lead planner on the project. O'Farrell, a former planner with Sacramento County, said Canada-based Magna has already spent $7 million on environmental documents and other costs associated with Dixon Downs.
"Any other developer would have thrown in the towel three or four years ago," O'Farrell added.
The project's grandstand would accommodate up to 6,800 people for racing and up to 15,000 patrons for special events such as concerts.
Wagering would take place on-site and by satellite for people watching the races at other venues.
The second phase of the project would include a hotel conference center, retail center, offices and restaurants in an outdoor mall dubbed The Village. Planners are hoping the project will draw visitors from throughout Northern California.
If the project is approved, Magna hopes to break ground in 2009 and complete the track by 2010.
Buildout of the entire project could take up to 15 years.
The project has garnered attention from officials and residents throughout the Sacramento region. Some fear it could place more strain on I-80 than any mitigation measures could alleviate.
Davis City Manager Bill Emlen told the Davis City Council in March that Dixon Downs has the potential to be a "regional backbreaker" for I-80, creating a logjam of traffic that could reverberate throughout the region.
Emlen said last week that he and his staff are analyzing the environmental mitigations proposed by Magna and will report to the Davis City Council later this month to recommend whether Davis should take any action in regard to the project.
Courville, Dixon's mayor, is baffled by other cities' interest.
"It's amazing to me because when other cities build a project, they don't ask us what we think of it," she said.
The first public hearing on the Dixon Downs project is scheduled Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Dixon City Hall council chambers, 600 E. A St. For more information call (707) 678-7000.
Information on Dixon Downs is available at www.dixondowns.com and on the city of Dixon's Web site at www.ci.dixon.ca.us.
The opponents' Web site is at www.dumpthedowns.org.
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