Dog Park Decisions Debated

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Thursday June 07, 2018

The issue of dog parks – location, noise, and whether to open or close them – has been a major focus at city council meetings for months. The topic has become increasingly heated in recent weeks as the process used to make those decisions has come under sharp scrutiny.

The council has received two petitions related to the Jaycee Dog Park that was opened last fall, closed a month later, then slated to re-open in June before being permanently closed last month. One petition to re-open the dog park was received at the council’s May 7 meeting and contained 250 signatures, although only 70 of the 127 signers with a verified South Burlington address were registered voters. A petition to keep the dog park closed was received May 21 and held 32 signatures. As the Jaycee Dog Park was repeatedly opened and closed, a Dog Park Task Force was already at work to study the topic from all angles. The group worked diligently to design a matrix by which to evaluate the viability of dog parks and held a community forum in the Chamberlin neighborhood to gather public input. They presented their findings at the last council meeting in May in preparation for the re-opening of the Jaycee Dog Park, but the council reversed the opening, and instead directed them to explore several new locations at Veterans Memorial Park.

The task force completed a thorough study of the Veterans Memorial Park sites, but at the June 4 meeting, ultimately they recommended that the council put the siting and dog park committee development process on hold to take time to reflect on the process.

Task force member Barbara Sirvis said she felt many missteps occurred during the dog park selection process and noted the “ill feelings” the process has created among neighbors in many parts of the city. In addition, Sirvis noted the extensive work that was conducted by the task force, only to have much of it dismissed publicly. “We have had our ethics questioned in a community forum...we have had our integrity challenged and compromised. Civil dialogue has become nonexistent as loud voices were heard on only one side of an issue,” Sirvis said. In the end, the task force said that at this time, pushing ahead with the establishment of a dog park committee would not be beneficial.

Indeed, there has even been tension between city committees as the Recreation and Parks Committee felt they had been left out of the process of evaluating uses being considered in city parks. Recreation and Parks Committee Chair Jennifer Kochman believes that the dog park task force’s recommendations should have come before her committee prior to making a report to the city council since “dog parks are a subset of parks,” she said.

After the council heard the recommendation of the task force to pause the process, they expressed a desire to continue the conversation and asked to see the presentation on the work the group had done to evaluate four sites at Veterans Memorial Park. Each site was evaluated using the matrix they developed, and received a score. Pros and cons of each were outlined and the north and south sites received the highest scores. Cost estimates were arrived at by conferring with Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux and ranged from $58,850 for the north site (0.76 acres) to $61,039 for the south site (1 acre). Costs included visual barriers, water source adaptations, signage, shade elements, and fence relocation among other items. In closing, the task force said that they didn’t believe that the dog park needed to be paid for on the backs of residents, but suggested sponsorships could be explored. They also wanted to remind people that places like Wheeler and Red Rocks are not off-leash areas and recommended an ordinance change to make Jaycee Park an “on-leash” park. In terms of next steps, the task force recommended transferring their issues and findings to a new dog park committee with next steps to include holding several community forums on various dog park related topics.

Following the task force presentation, several residents of the Village at Dorset Park voiced their concerns around the potential siting of a dog park so close to their homes. They expressed dismay that they had learned at a neighborhood barbecue that the item was on the agenda for possible action. Additional concerns ranged from noise to the safety of children using the playgrounds and fields, to bacteria seeping into the ground and making its way to Wheeler. Betty Milizia, a resident of the Village at Dorset Park and a member of the task force said that people are very concerned about having a dog park that close, and given the heated nature of discussions around this issue, she reiterated the task force’s view that the council would not get a fair representation from the community if it forged ahead with a committee right away.

Councilors listened and lauded the work of the task force, but thought it would be a shame to halt the momentum of evaluating more dog park locations in the city. Ultimately, they unanimously decided to adopt the resolution Emery had drafted outlining the charge and makeup of a Dog Park Committee. The committee will consist of seven South Burlington residents including one canine expert and one member each from the Recreation and Parks and Natural Resources committees to be interviewed and appointed in the same manner as South Burlington’s other committees and commissions and within the same June timeline. Committee members will serve one, two, or three year terms for the life of the committee. You can view both the resolution and the entire dog park task force’s presentation on the city website and Channel 17.

 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent