Dixon mayor: Park District facility location not in city limits

Residents voice concerns over issues, planning process

DIXON – City officials recently discovered the $3 million facility the Dixon Park District is planning to build in the Meadows isn’t in city limits, but it won’t keep work from starting later this month.

The Park District recently petitioned the city for a special-use permit to construct a community center/multi-use building next to the Water Wonderland parking lot. The Plan Commission was scheduled to review the petition Thursday, but the meeting was canceled after discovering the land had never been annexed into city limits.

Different groups have been trying to bring a community center or sports complex to Dixon for many years, but those efforts failed to secure tax increases to fund one.

The district decided to pursue a building that would meet basic community needs without needing a referendum or tax increase and issued $2 million in bonds to do so. It will include a gym with two courts and batting cages, a community room, and administrative offices.

The city also budgeted a $700,000 donation for the work.

Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said that although county geographic information systems showed the land was within the city limits, the annexation was never finalized in 2010.

Dixon Park District Executive Director Duane Long said the city didn’t have a classification for park zoning, which is why the annexation never took place. He said they plan to pursue annexing into the city, but they will start building in the next few weeks because they already received a building permit from the county.

Water Wonderland, which went through the city permit process and included a $100,000 donation from the city as well as an intergovernmental agreement, also isn’t in city limits. Arellano said they need to improve the processes and city involvement with projects they partner on in the future.

“There’s a number of issues we’ll have to remedy,” Arellano said.

He was also concerned that community members wanting to be heard about the project and how it would impact them haven’t been given a forum to do so. A few people showed up to the Plan Commission meeting not knowing it had been canceled, and Arellano invited them to speak at Monday’s council meeting.

Cassandra Wallace, who lives near the site, said she only recently learned of the project through a letter and is worried about how it might affect property values, traffic flow and safety of children not paying attention to traffic.

“It’s bad right now, and I can’t imagine when we start building this complex; it’s going to be worse,” she said.

Jeff Pinkston, who lives right across from the property and also received a letter, said he was never approached about the project, never heard of the community survey about a community center and thinks the process has been “totally mishandled.”

In 2019, City Manager Danny Langloss formed a group of 15 people as the #DixonStrong Leadership Team with the main goal of creating plans for a community center and helping with community engagement. Meetings were not open to the public.

The team started out with circulating a needs assessment survey and then a community center interest survey. The surveys were featured online, on social media and with Sauk Valley Media in print and online.

Of 1,143 responses, 47% were in favor of a community center and 22% were opposed. The rest were a mix of cautious and curious.

Team members Aaqil Khan and Mandy Hinkey said they tried to market the survey widely, and the team was going strong until COVID-19 hit, they stopped meeting, and the Park District took the reins.

Arellano said the team was not part of a city process, and he wasn’t in favor of how they decided a location for the community center.

The property still will need to be annexed into the city so that it can be under city jurisdiction and policing, he said, and he wants to make sure community members have a chance to be heard.

“We’re not leaving anybody behind,” Arellano said. “We’re going to make sure this gets discussed fully.”

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.