Parks board members continue dog park planning

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - 15:09

Parks and rec board members are slowly walking a dog parks plan forward in spite of loud, persistent howls of opposition from a small group of neighbors who live near a proposed park site in downtown Eagle River.

“I don’t want this to become a huge controversy that takes up way more of everybody’s energy than it should — ours, theirs — but I also don’t want to see that land just sit there as sort of a scrubby looking lot with nothing on it because the neighbors rise up every time,” said Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors member Lexi Hill during a June 11 public board meeting at the Eagle River Town Center attended by zero members of the public.

Hill’s comments were in response to a May 24 open house attended by about two dozen people in which several neighbors of a small municipal park at the corner of Fire House Lane and Seabolt Street laid out a number of reasons why a dog park wouldn’t work in the area, with objections ranging from the park being too small to the potential for excessive barking to the possibility of overcrowded streets.

Attendees at the open house have continued their opposition in email form, with board member Brian Fay saying he’s received numerous emails from the same folks opposing the Fire House site.

“It’s been email after email after email,” he said.

But while the opposition has been vocal, board member Joshua Ream said it hasn’t been universal. He said he’s heard lots of support for dog parks from other area residents, and believes the Fire House residents are only opposed to the site due to its proximity to their homes.

“It’s one of those ‘not in my backyard’ type of situations,” he said.

The Fire House Lane location is located on a small parcel of municipal land adjacent on its two other sides to Eagle River Road and Eagle River Elementary. The site is currently home to tennis courts, a small parking area and an unused wooded area cut through with informal trails. Parks board members have long sought a use for the land, but they’ve been previously stymied by locals. In 2013, a plan to turn the area into a skate park crashed after neighbors rose up in opposition.

The location is one of two under consideration by the parks board, which has been discussing the idea for more than a year at its sparsely attended monthly meetings. The other location is at Peters Creek Park and has drawn little criticism.

But the Fire House Lane site has been contentious, with angry residents complaining they’d been blindsided at the open house, which was held to get more public input about the sites.

At that meeting, parks board members and planners with R&M Consultants assured the public the parks aren’t a done deal.

That’s technically true, but Hill said the board needs to be clear with the public that the parks are still well on their way to happening.

“It’s likely that these are going forward, and what we’re asking now is not, ‘What do you think about having a dog park here?’ but, ‘How do we make a dog park here best address … your concerns?’” she said.

Hill said the problem lies in the fact neighbors seem dead-set against any dog park and aren’t interested in working with the board to find solutions to potential issues like parking and noise.

“Their only concern is to stop it,” she said.

An active member of the local dog mushing community, Hill said some of the concerns brought up by neighbors deserve to be addressed, such as the idea a dog park could be disruptive to pets in the area. But she also said there are ways to mitigate those concerns — but only if neighbors want to work with the board rather than stopping any park plan that comes up.

“I don’t know if we can engage those people to understand — because we are likely moving forward with this site — is how to make it less unpalatable to them,” she said. “I haven’t heard a lot of interest in them doing anything other than blocking it.”

The dog park plan is far from finished. Parks board members said they’d like to schedule at least one more public open house on the subject, and the item will likely be on the agenda at the board’s next meeting on July 9.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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