Since late November when city council voted to close the Jaycee Dog Park due to noise issues, neighborhood dog owners have come together in an effort to have the park re-opened until another location is found. At the February 20 council meeting, residents presented the city’s leaders with a petition signed by 273 community members who want the park re-opened. From their seats in the audience and at the microphone, residents passionately expressed their disapproval of the council’s decision and pressed for the closure to be reversed.
Officially opened late last summer, the dog park at Jaycee had a short-lived existence. Designated as one of two new city dog parks, along with the dog park opened in July at Farrell Park, the new sites were established to fill the void left by the forced closing of the Kirby Road Dog Park, after the airport terminated the city’s lease for the land in June 2017. The Kirby Road location had been established after the city was forced to vacate a dog park on leased land on Patchen Road.
The Jaycee Park site met many of the city’s desired criteria in their search for a new location. It was close to the former park, was on city-owned land and had access to water for the dogs.
Not long after the new dog park opened at Jaycee, the council was made aware of noise issues associated with barking dogs. Mark Dickinson, whose home is adjacent to the park, was a vocal opponent to the location of the dog park. At the first council meeting in November, he commented that the dog park had become extremely popular since its opening, with people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. He said that the incessant barking had led him to approach a number of people explaining his circumstances and requesting they control their dogs. Unfortunately, he said his attempts had been met with terse response.
Dickinson, himself a dog owner, returned to the November 20 council meeting to express that he had not had an ounce of peace in his own home since the park’s opening. After lengthy discussion councilors voted 3:1 to close the park. Tom Chittenden voted nay; Helen Riehle was not present at the meeting.
At Monday’s meeting, the dog owners in attendance refuted much of this account and sought answers to why the park was closed so abruptly. Resident Ed Plourde touted the park as not just a place for dogs to socialize, but a spot that had brought members of the community together as well. Plourde noted more people were walking around the neighborhood and stopping to have conversations. “We need people doing more of that ... just bumping into one another,” Plourde said.
City Council Chair Helen Riehle explained that although she was not present the night the decision was made to close the park, the council has been well aware of the need for multiple dog parks in the city. This is an issue the council hopes to rectify with the help of guidelines being established by the dog park task force, whose work is well underway.
In terms of process, Riehle explained they needed to find a space the city controlled so they would not be asked to vacate again. “What we didn’t do, is have a conversation with the neighborhood or dog owners regarding the requirements of a dog park ...we went forward quickly without public input,” she said.
Meaghan Emery, one of three councilors who voted to close the park, said the council never intended Jaycee to be a permanent site and noted that after hearing from members of the public, she became increasingly concerned that an arrest could take place at the park as a result of an altercation. Emery also noted the quality of life issues inherent in being impacted by constant noise. “It’s not acceptable for a resident to be in an unlivable situation,” Emery said, “I feel badly the council’s actions inflamed a neighborhood dispute.”
Residents took issue with the council’s response, refuting the notion that Jaycee was ever billed as a “temporary site.” Dog park task force member Catherine Young said the airport gave the city years to find a new location, and alleged the council was not being transparent. Frustration increased as the sometimes-acrimonious conversation continued, with residents claiming that it seemed as though “change was impossible” regardless of the number of signatures gathered.
Chittenden, who voted against closing the dog park and was prepared to make a motion to reopen it until another location was found, told residents that if 709 signatures were gathered, they could get their issue on the ballot. That process could take months. Chittenden did not make the motion, as the item had not been warned for action.
Riehle told residents that she did not know how long it would take to find another location, since the council has yet to see the guidelines being developed by the task force. Until then, council reminded residents they can visit Farrell Park where the fenced dog park is located.
In the meantime, the irony of the situation became apparent as it was determined that residents can run their dogs off-leash anywhere on the grounds of Jaycee Park, but not within the fenced area of the closed dog park.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent