Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fate of Dixon Downs Likely in Council's Hands

Fate of Dixon Downs Likely in Council's Hands
By Ben Antonius

DIXON - The Dixon Downs project looks to be entering the home stretch.

The City Planning Commission gave the go-ahead to the racetrack project on most of the major counts on Wednesday night.

Canada-based Magna Entertainment Corporation has been seeking to build a horse racing track and amphitheater on 250 acres along Interstate 80 in northeast Dixon.

Late Wednesday, the commissioners had approved four of the five items necessary to send the issue to the City Council and discussion was under way on the fifth item.

Commissioners unanimously approved a study of the impacts the project would have on the surrounding area. Commissioner Doug Uhlik departed from his colleagues on the other three votes, casting the lone dissenting vote.

Most of the time Wednesday was spent as commissioners discussed a litany of topics, including the height of signs along the freeway, how the project would affect the small-town atmosphere and whether traffic would affect tomato trucks going to the nearby Campbell's plant.

"I think there's no doubt there will be impacts but I put a lot of stock in the (police) chief saying they will be manageable impacts," said commissioner Wayne Williams.

Proponents have said the racetrack would be a state-of-the-art project with good restaurants, shopping and hotel components. They have said it would bring jobs and economic development, as well as boost the city's finances.

Detractors - many of whom wore shirts and buttons with critical slogans on Wednesday - have said the project would choke intersections in the area with traffic and that the gambling aspect of the racetrack could attract crime.

At one point, commissioners discussed whether the benefits of the project would outweigh the negative impacts. They discussed the consequences of a "worst-case scenario" in which the track is built but fails before reaching its second phase of construction.

Even in that case, they agreed, the city would come out favorably because it would have received much-needed infrastructure improvements to the area around the track.

"There are people out there waiting (to move to Dixon) for this to happen," said commissioner Dave Cornejo. "There's some infrastructure out there that are really needed."

If commissioners do approve all five conditions, as they were expected to, the Dixon City Council could start its deliberations as early as tonight.

The council discussion is expected to take several days, possibly running into mid-October.

Staff writer Ian Thompson contributed to this report. Reach Ben Antonius at or 427-6977.

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