Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Project on Track?

Project on Track? Dixon Downs Hearings Begin Tonight
By Beth Curda

DIXON - The pitter-patter of . . . galloping horses?

Dixon, a small bedroom community on Interstate 80 with friendly businesses and a history of agriculture, soon will learn whether it will add to its identity a state-of-the-art horse racing track, pavilion and entertainment center.

Supporters of the controversial proposal point to the roads and sewer system that developer Magna Entertainment Corp. Dixon Inc. would provide in that undeveloped area of the city, and say the project would bring in business and create jobs.

Opponents cite concerns about traffic and air quality, Dixon's identity and gambling. Some are concerned that, despite Magna's comments to the contrary, the company eventually would try to put slot machines in the complex.

The City Council will decide whether to approve the 260-acre project, a racetrack and training facility, betting pavilion, hotel, offices and entertainment and retail complex.

Before that decision is made, however, two sets of public hearings have been planned before the Planning Commission and council and will begin this evening.

The Planning Commission's first hearing will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chamber at City Hall, 600 East A St., Dixon. A second hearing is scheduled for Thursday, at the same time and place. Additional hearings, if needed, would be on Monday as well as Sept. 20, Sept. 21 and Sept. 25.

The council will host similar hearings.

On Wednesday, City Manager Warren Salmons will begin the discussion with a presentation. That could last between 90 minutes and two hours, he said. Salmons has recommended the commission advise the City Council to approve the environmental impact report and the needed changes to the zoning and plans associated with the project site and the ordinance setting up a development agreement.

Following Salmons' talk will be a presentation by Magna that is expected to last at least an hour.

Overflow seating for the meeting will be in the Senior Multi-Use Center, 201 S. Fifth St. The meeting will be broadcast on cable television there.

Support for the project has come from many in the business community. The Dixon Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association both are listed on Dixon Downs' endorsements page on the project's Web site.

A letter from Chamber President Gordon Hammond posted on the Dixon Downs endorsements page states the organization supports the project because it would draw other high-end projects, increase overall business in Dixon and boost land values.

The Downtown Business Association stated in a letter on the Web site that 78 percent of the 71 member businesses it surveyed supported the project, and 4 percent opposed it.

Opposition to the project primarily has come from an organization called Dixon Citizens for Quality Growth. Group member Gail Preston said about 5,000 people - 3,800 Dixon residents and 1,800 people from Davis, Vacaville and other surrounding areas - have signed letters urging the council to reject the project.

"The way we see it the traffic should be a deal killer," Preston said. "So should the wastewater treatment plant. So should the concept of changing, you might say, the fundamental goals."

A fundamental goal in the General Plan, he said, is to maintain a small-town character, something the city wouldn't be able to do with a betting parlor that seats thousands, the racetrack and "an Arden Fair Mall plus 20 percent." The retail and entertainment complex, the second phase of the project, would be 1.2 million square feet. Web sites put Arden Fair Mall at 1 million square feet or larger.

"This project," opponent Stephen Sikes said, "is just simply not a fit for Dixon, not a fit for the region."

Also, he predicted, a small amount of revenue would go to Dixon; most would go to Canada, where Magna is based.

The development agreement being considered by the city requires the developers to, among other things:

- Spend $25 million on infrastructure improvements ranging from sewer and water lines to roadway and intersection work. Road improvements involve building a parkway through the site from Pedrick Road to Vaughn Road, expanding Pedrick Road, extending East Dorset Road, and improving the North First Street and Pedrick Road interchanges with I-80.

- Give the city a percentage of the wagers made at Dixon Downs, which could raise about $800,000 a year for the city.

- Put 1 percent of Dixon Downs' profits in a charitable foundation that will spend the money on community projects.

The developers have said that even if state law changed and other forms of gambling were allowed at Dixon Downs, the city's voters would have the final say.

John O'Farrell, local project manager for Dixon Downs, said the project would be a signature for the city.

"It could become the spark that lights that whole area," he said.

Magna's vision is to reintroduce horse racing into mainstream entertainment and sports, O'Farrell said. The company does that by upgrading existing racetracks and incorporating other components that draw visitors.

"You make this a place where people want to go," he said.

Ian Thompson contributed to this report.

Reach Beth Curda at or (530) 747-8045.

At a glance

Who: Dixon Planning Commission

What: Dixon Downs hearings

Where: Dixon City Council Chamber, 600 East A. St., Dixon

When: 7 p.m. today. Also, 7 p.m. Thursday, Monday, Sept. 20, Sept. 21 and Sept. 25 if needed.

What's next: City Council hearings and then a vote on whether to approve the project.

Info: 678-7000

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