Board of Directors Progress Report

June 25, 2016Grayscale Logo

The Stratford Dog Park Action Committee (SDPAC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has worked since 2011 to suggest options for the Town of Stratford, CT to consider for a site for it’s Dog Park. The site had been left undetermined since the Town's Ordinance allowing for the establishment of a dog park was passed in 2007. According to our research there have been close to 20 locations suggested and considered, some formally and some informally. Concurrently with our efforts to aid in the location search we’ve spent our time fundraising to defray, if not completely cover, the parks construction costs. We’ve also been drumming up public awareness and support for the project. Our social media pages have over 1000 combined followers and we regularly field questions about the dog park’s status as well as provide updates on the work we’ve done as things progress. The goal of our group was always to become a support group that would help maintain the cleanliness of the dog park and organize community events in order to generate funds for it’s annual operating costs (i.e. buying dog waste bags, fence and signage repairs) once a location was designated. It was never our intention or desire to lease land from the town and have any ownership stake in the dog park. The SDPAC hoped to transition into a ‘Friends of’ type of organization similar to those in place currently for all of the town’s major parks as soon as a location was determined. From 2011 to 2014 possible locations were investigated in a variety of locations, most notably Roosevelt Forest, Pecks Mill Pond, and a site near the Merritt Parkway by Ryder’s Landing. The last one did not work out for reasons beyond anyone’s control at the local level. We won’t go into that now but will certainly provide that information to anyone who would like it. The location adjacent to the WPCA Facility and the Stratford Animal Control Facility recommended on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by the Parks & Recreation Committee was initially identified in April of 2014 in response to a Rally at Town Hall held by our organization to urge the Town Council to take some type of action to move this project forward. The SDPAC had received grant funding from The Petco Foundation in October of 2013 for the construction of the dog park and were in jeopardy of losing it if progress on the project could not be shown within a six-month period. To our surprise at that rally on April 14, 2014 it was announced that a location had been found adjacent to the Animal Control Facility and a subsequent resolution to approve the site was passed by the Town Council at that night’s meeting. Prior to this date the location was never discussed with our organization, nor suggested by us. No publicly posted meeting minutes of the Parks & Recreation Committee (or any committee or commission) that we are able to locate indicate that the site was evaluated prior to the passing of that resolution. At the time we celebrated and thought this was very exciting news, though admittedly, we had not even seen the location. Following the announcement of this location, in June of 2014, concerns were raised by the Stratford Animal Rescue Society (STARS) that indicated there could be a negative impact to the volunteer work that they do with the dogs at the Stratford Animal Control Facility. Hearing their concerns and out of respect for the valuable work that STARS does our organization felt that it would be best for everyone involved if we requested the town consider another option we had identified. While we saw many positives to the idea of the dog park being located near the shelter, there was (and still is) no way to fully confirm or refute the concerns raised by STARS without the actual existence of the dog park. If it were built and did cause harm to the shelter dogs it would be too late at that point to do anything about it. The Town Council subsequently tabled action on establishment of the dog park at the site adjacent to the WPCA Facility and Animal Control Facility in September of 2014 based on the concerns raised by STARS and the proposed sale of the WPCA Facility in the works at the time. The alternative option we identified was a site approximately 600 feet away from the Animal Control Facility on the opposite side of the Greenway (between the former Army Engine Plant parking lot and the water). The proposal was brought to the Town Attorney and the Mayor's Chief of Staff and we were directed to work with the Town Planning Administrator to move this site through the proper approval process. We then proceeded to work with the Planning Administrator as well as the Town Engineer who drafted a site map of the location. The proposal for alteration of the site was also provided to STARS and the Animal Control Officer. The Animal Control Officer indicated she could not provided an opinion unless a Town Official requested it of her and STARS did not provide any feedback. During this time there were many other topics being discussed at Town Hall that needed significant attention, most consuming being the ownership status of the WPCA Facility and the coming Town Council elections so we felt it best to give the project some time and let other things settle before we asked the Town to re-address the dog park project. In December of 2015, in response to the comment of a member of the public in an online discussion forum, we were contacted by a member of the Short Beach Commission and presented with the idea of locating the dog park at the site of the former miniature golf course. We were told there might be waste under the site that would prevent digging to install fencing, however, this was not completely confirmed by an official source. So we kept the site on our list of potential alternatives as well as investigated ways to erect fencing without digging into the ground. In January of 2016 we were contacted by a new member of the Parks & Recreation Committee who had been involved in the passage of the Dog Park Ordinance in 2007 as well as the location search during that time period. The Dog Park was added back onto the Parks & Recreation Committee agenda in February and the item tabled in March at our request. In April 2016 we presented the Parks & Recreation Committee with an overview of the project that included a list of all the locations considered by our group and the reasoning we had been given that the sites wouldn’t work. We also presented the alternative options we identified, those being the Greenway/Former Army Engine Plant parking lot adjacent site, the Short Beach former mini golf course site, and another site that was suggested by a member of the public that was off of Blakeman Place/Meadow St bordering I-95. This last site was later determined to be part of the parcel on 576 Broadway that had recently been sold by the Town to a private entity. This proposal was posted to our website for public review and notification of this was posted on our social media pages. The Parks & Rec Committee decided the Greenway/Former Army Engine Plant parking lot adjacent site should be evaluated, as the cost to clear the overgrowth and do any necessary grading at the site was unknown and would be a major factor in a decision on this site. It was determined to be upwards of $50K, though no formal bids or estimates we have seen were collected. At this time the SDPAC also met with STARS and the ACO to discuss this site. They indicated they felt it could still be problematic to operations at the Animal Control Facility. Their contact information was provided to the Parks & Recreation Committee and we suggested they be invited to the next meeting to discuss their opinions with the Committee. The costs associated with the Greenway/Former Army Engine Plant parking lot adjacent site and the concerns presented to us, along with the results of a public online poll we conducted were presented to the Parks & Recreation Committee in April 2016. We requested their formal consideration of the Short Beach former mini golf course site, which was the choice of 48% of respondents to the poll. Our group felt that until official confirmation was received that the ground at this site was, in fact, contaminated it should still be considered. This location drew no opposition from other groups that we were aware of, was near no residences and would unlikely ever be developed for commercial use. The Parks & Recreation Committee felt it was not an appropriate site for the dog park and would be better suited for other types of recreation and, after much discussion, which included our input as well as that of the leadership of STARS who attended this public meeting (at their choosing, not at the request of the Committee), the Committee made a Motion to refer the project back to the Roosevelt Forest Commission as the original proposal from 2011 for a site there had never been voted on, the item was tabled by the Roosevelt Forest Commission on July 12, 2012. On May 31, 2016 a member of the Parks & Recreation Committee notified us that he spoke with a member of the Roosevelt Forest Commission who said they were unlikely to put the item on their agenda and that, if they did, it would probably receive an un-favorable recommendation. The reasons given were that the site would be too close to the police shooting range and the Boy Scout camp. Our questions in response to those concerns:

1. Isn’t the entire forest closed when the police shooting range is in use? If it is, then the dog park would be closed during those times as well. 2. How many nights per year do the scouts use the campgrounds? The Town would certainly have the right to close the dog park for those dates if they felt it necessary.

So, our group searched the map of Stratford for any other possible sites. At this time we found that the area adjacent to the Birdseye Dock Boat Ramp was Town owned property and not part of the nearby Tide Harbor Complex as most people assume from driving by. Being that dog parks are a very common amenity offered by many such complexes all over the country and that the complex allows residents to have small dogs, we thought it could potentially work. It was the right size, had adequate parking and should be protected as park space rather than ever sold for commercial development, in our opinion. We were told to meet with the Town Planning Administrator who indicated there were no objections to the proposal from that department. As with all other sites public discussion brought up many pros and cons. Discussion also occurred on other locations in both Boothe Park and Longbrook Park that were only considered informally by our group between 2011 and 2013 and never formally brought by the SDPAC to the Parks & Rec Committee as suggestions. Based on review of publicly posted meeting minutes that go back as far as October 2008 we could find nothing that states that the Parks & Recreation Committee formally considered these sites. So we shared our proposal for a site in the rear of Longbrook Park with the public. Many people referred to as being the town’s ‘unofficial dog park’ currently and it received a lot of positive feedback. A member of the Longbrook Park Commission even commented and said no discussion of a proposal for a dog park to be built there is found in any meeting minutes for the past five years. So if there was formal consideration and/or discussion with residents and they opposed it, as the Parks & Recreation Committee stated was a major reason it wasn’t a viable option, this was likely in 2007 or early 2008. With the feedback our posting of the proposed site received and believing that a lot can change in 5+ years, we felt this location should be formally considered now, regardless of what may or may not have been the opinion of the idea several years ago. During this time we also questioned an explanation of the actual process that should be followed to have a site for the dog park approved, as we had received conflicting opinions and directions since 2011. Confirmation from the Town Attorney, received on June 13, 2016 indicated that

“The process to establish a dog park as set forth in Section 152-28(A) is for the Parks and Recreation Committee in conjunction with the Animal Control Officer to make a favorable recommendation on a site to the Town Council, who must vote to approve it under its authority to establish parks. Charter, Section 2.2.1 (m).”

Upon statement of this to the public many questions and comments ensued about the need for the input and opinions of other Town Committees and Commissions in order for the Parks and Recreation Committee to make an informed decision on their recommendation to the Town Council. We agree that, though not required per the ordinance, their feedback should have been sought publicly for any location options being considered. We attended the Parks & Recreation Committee meeting on June 22, 2016 and an initial motion was made to refer 3 sites (the Birdseye Dock adjacent site, a site in Longbrook Park and the WPCA Facility and Animal Control Facility adjacent site) to the Town Council for their review. We were supportive of this motion as the input of all other parties necessary could be collected and then provided to the Council before they were to vote on the matter. Due to the number of interested members of the public and other Town Officials present at the June 22, 2016 meeting, the Parks and Rec Committee Chair opened the floor for comments.
  • An Allyndale resident supported the Longbrook site
  • A residents advocated for the dog park in general
  • Residents from Tide Harbor said they were opposed to that site
  • A resident advocated for the Birdseye dock site and the dog park in general
  • Another resident advocated for the WPCA site
  • A Town Official commented that the noise level at dog parks in typically low
  • A Town Official supported the WPCA site and felt the Council should receive only one location option
  • A member of the Short Beach Commission advocated for the WPCA adjacent site
  • The Chair of the Roosevelt Forest Commission advocated for the WPCA adjacent site
  • The SDPAC explained our position and why we believe the options we suggested could work
The Parks & Recreation Committee discussed the fact that there are plans for an ice skating rink in Longbrook Park by another volunteer group in the winter months. They felt there was not room for both. A location in Florida where a dog park is part of the Humane Society Facility was also discussed by a Parks & Recreation Committee member as an example of why the dog park could be located near the Animal Control Facility. The motion on the table was then changed to send only the WPCA adjacent site to the Town Council with a favorable recommendation and it passed unanimously. A second motion was made to request that the Council allocate $25K in Capital Improvement Project funding for the project, which passed 8-2.     Respectfully Submitted June 25, 2016 Paula Lockshier & Joe Pedoto Stratford Dog Park Action Committee Board of Directors