The following is a summary of the main points put to the 100+ people who attended the town meeting on 26 June. As far as possible facts are made distinct from personal comments. Judging by the remarkably polite exchange of ideas after the PRACommittee presentation there isn’t likely to be any blood spilled on the park grass but equally there are probably a lot of mnds that are never going to meet over the final solution – whatever that might be. This is about dogs and policies about dogs are always contentious. Just a fact of life.
Note – this will be a long read. Sorry, but there is a lot to cover. Plenty of illustrations however … we conclude with some suggestions of our own formed after talking to several interested persons (and not just dog owers!)
As Chair of the PRAC and Councillor with responsibility for park matters Wanda Lowensteyn led the audience through a very clear and balanced presentation of the issues culminating in four possible scenarios that had been identified once it became evident last year that town had been disobeying its own bylaws for almost 30 years. Most people who spoke at the meeting were clear in thanks to Wanda for her excellent presentation and rather difficult position. As she said in her opening remarks – whatever the final outcome is there will be people in the town who will vehemently criticise the process and the decision.
What did cause quite a lot of surprise was that while the presentation primarily offered four options and clearly set out the pros and cons of each, and after it was said more than once that Council wanted to hear people’s reactions and thought, that Council had an open mind and that they will base their final decision on what was said at the meeting … the presentation concluded by putting forward one of the four options as the PRAC’s recommendation which implies that the decision has half been taken already.
And so – the four options. The detailed pros and cons in the presentation are very much condensed here – if you want to know more best to talk to the members of PRAC
Option #1 – Exclusive Dog Park
In this option virtually the entire area of the park outside the parking area beside the Yacht Club will be surrounded by a fence to contain dogs. This fence will be lower than the temporary one that has graced the park for the past several months. Dogs inside the fence will ber permitted to run off-leash pretty well all day long. Dogs will have free access to the water. Such a facility will be unique in the West Island and likely to attract many dog owners from outside the town so it is probable that restrictions will need to be applied as to who can use the facility. The cost of such a long fence will be considerable. There may be issues with government regulations governing shoreline use as well as the SPAIP regulations. Although non-dog people could still access the field and the shore it is unlikely that many will want to and so this effectively hands the park over to the dog owners. On the other hand, shoreline access is available opposite Fritz so is this truly a big issue?
What about the hockey rink? There seems to be no place for it any more.
Option #2 – Family Park
In this option the dog facilities will be relocated elswhere in the town. There will be no fencing in Bertold and the park will become available as a multi-use facility. Dogs will still be welcome but must be on-leash at all times. A childrens’ play area is being considered and enhancements to the natural environment by the planting of shrubs and trees are possible. Dog feces, which were never a real problem despite the perception of some, becomes a non-issue.
There are two big problems with this option. Dogs will no longer have access to water which is quite a problem for people whose dogs have maladies such as arthritis etc for which water exercise if beneficial. Secondly, where else could a fenced dog park be located in the town? We were told that 13 sites had been looked at, of which the members of PRAC had identified just two for consideration. These two sites being (a) the wooded strip between the highway and Surrey at the extreme western end of town and (b) the south-western corned of Allen’s Hill Park. It was not made clear why these two sites were thought to be suitable.
Those are facts – there are two more options coming but first a personal take on the alternative sites for dog parks if Option #2 is chosen by Council. Citizen Marat is certain that both are entirely unsuitable (feel free to differ) for reasons that were not addressed in the meeting.
** Personal thoughts on alternative dog park locations if Option 2 selected
(a)The West Surrey wooded area – the first and quite glaring problem is that there is no parking there other than along Surrey opposite houses and down Upper Cambridge, Devon and Churchill. What do residents of those houses think of the idea?
Secondly – I invite anyone to take a walk beside those trees any time of a sumemr’s day – you cannot but be aware of the fact that a lot of birds and other wildlife make a good living there. The site would have to have many trees felled (felling healthytrees is never a good idea) and the ground levelled while a fence was erected, thereby evicting the creatures that live there. There is also the fact that traffic noise in that part of town is very high – what happens at some future date when the town gets around to erecting a sound-absorbing berm or sound wall? Will the dog facility have to be moved yet again?
(b) Allen’s Hill Park – apart from the absence of highway traffic noise similar objections apply with regard to clearing mature woodland and shrubs, evicting wildlife and disturbing what is a very attractive green space beloved by many present and past residents of the town. The only thing in favour of this site is that adjacent parking is already in place. After the meeting a member of Marat’s Collective visited the proposed site and commented … “It’s mostly very dense and beautiful forest with dense vegetation and tons of mosquitos. The paths (few) are very pretty but small and not enough to play really. An acre is not big at all and if you subtract the forest there is hardly any space left. If they then just mow down the entire dense forest leaving only a few trees for shade they will destroy an entire ecosystem. While I was there just now being eaten by mosquitos I had a cardinal chirp away at me.”
I also draw attention to the recently published document from the Quebec government about changing land use in the province (www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/cartovista/comptes_terres/index.html). This clearly shows that south of Highway 20 in Baie-D’Urfé there are just two sites that are considered by land use specialists to be un-developed “virgin” land … and guess where they are? Yes precisly the two sites selected by PRAC for locating a dog park in. If you would like to see details of this please look at a summery of the Baie-D’Urfé land use that is available at http://www.greenbirding.ca/loss-of-habitat-in-baie-durfe/ None of the other parks and green spaces in town are as rare or important as these two sites. Do we really want to lose either?
** At the very least, a complete environmental impact assessment MUST be done before these sites are even considered.
End of commentary … we move on:
Option #3 – Shared Park with Dedicated Dog Area
In this version of the future the park is divided approximately in two with an elongated fenced area for dogs on the west side running from the river northwards with the rest of the park available to all.
On the face of it this possesses many of the features that most people seem to be looking for. There is somewhere for the dogs to run off leash all day and have water access while the rest of the park can be used for pretty much whatever anyone wishes to do there in the knowledge that they will not be bothered by unwanted dogs running up to them. We were told that there could be enforcement problems, yet the dog owners association are celar that they would self-police and do their best to ensure there were no issues.
On reflection, the only possible problem would be if a dog were to enter the water from the fenced area and exit in the general use area – yet, could that not be solved by extending the boundary fence a dozen feet form the shoreline?
Option #4 – Shared Park with Limited Off-Leash Hours
This option has no fence erected but allows dog owners to exercise their dogs off leash at specified hours. We were told that in practice this would mean off-leash in the early mornings only.
The town worries about liability concerns and the issue of enforcing the use of leashes outside the permitted off-leash hours as well as the presence of possibly large numbers of oout of town visitors with dogs.
- How would this be different to the pre-existing arrangements for off-leash dogs in the park prior to the discovery of the bylaw issue?
- If off-leash hours under this régime were possible other than in the early morning beforehand why can they not be permitted now?
- Would this not have been a possible solution by a simple re-writing of the old bylaws without all this talk of expensive fences etc?
** Council will give an update to residents at the 10 July Council Meeting – come early to get a seat.
CITIZEN MARAT’S PERSONAL TAKE ON THIS …
- This whole issue could probably have been avoided by a rapid revision of the bylaws last summer
- The newly formed dog association seem to be decent, reasonable neighbours who are not spoiling for a fight but feel they are being pressured into giving up facilities they have enjoyed for nearly 30 years
- … on the other hand, there are non-dog owners who know they are a majority in the town (73% of households have no dog) and have told us they want “their” park back
- There has to be a compromise
- Option 1 is a non-starter. Really, whoever thought that fencing off the entire park would please anyone?
- Option 2 is also not acceptable. the dog owners will fight tooth and nail for access to the water and the alternative dog park sites proposed are so (ludicrously?) unacceptable it is hard to know how they even got onto the list.
- Which means the solution lies with Option 3 or Option 4 … after some hard thinking and consumption of coffee we recommend that some variant of Option 3 should be chosen as the best compromise for all. The precise details of fence appearance and height as well as location (to include an extension into the water) perhaps should be put to another open meeting at which residents can come and comment. Also – talk to the dog group, they might have some good suggestions.