Public hearing planned for dog park
By CARL E. HARTDEGEN
The members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission are planning to stage a public hearing after members of the Westfield Dog Bark Friends appeared before the commissioners at their regular meeting Monday evening to inform the commission that their plans for Westfield’s proposed dog park have changed.
The commission had previously agreed to lease a portion of the disused Arms Brook Park off Lockhouse Road for the off leash recreational “Dog Bark” and the Friends had been investigating development of the dog park there but problems soon became evident.
The property is actually under the control of at least two city entities, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Flood Control Commission, and a problem arose when the Law Department tried to determine exactly which commission controlled the part of the property the Friends were eyeing for the park.
The other problem which stymied the Friends is more practical as the property would need both a driveway and a parking area if a dog park was established there. The cost of those amenities, both in money and time, was deemed to be insurmountable and the Friends started to look at other property controlled by the commission for the dog park.
At the meeting, the group’s vice-president, Marilyn Sandidge, said “we have worked with (Parks and Recreation Department interim director) Jim (Blascak) to rethink the location of the dog park” and the focus of the search has turned to a portion of Paper Mill Playground which, she said “looks like a fine park for a certain type of dog park that we would be fine with.”
The site now under consideration, she said, is a .68 acre piece of open lawn which previously housed a roller hockey rink and, before that, tennis courts.
The area could be used to make a dog park which would be very different than what was envisioned in the wooded area of Arms Brook Park but Sandidge said that it would still be acceptable to the Friends.
She said that the group wants to create a dog park which is accessible to both handicapped and elderly patrons and said “Arms Brook (Park) would need a lot of work.”
Paper Mill Playground, on the other hand, is practically shovel ready with both water and electrical resources already on the property as well as an established parking area.
Sandidge said that shade for dogs a Paper Mill Playground dog park would be an issue in the summer but suggested that problem could be alleviated by the use of relatively low cost “Shade sails”, fabric awnings which can be attached to poles, to provide areas of shade.
Others at the meeting suggested that the shade problem could be partially addressed by moving the selected area closer to, or even into the fringes of, the wood line between the playground and the school.
She said that the group has the resources to provide for a layer of mulch in the park and has said that funding is available to fence the area. She said that less fencing would be needed at the playground than was planned for at Arms Brook Park and said that, since it will be easier to erect the fencing in the open lawn of the playground, the horticultural students at Westfield Vocational-Technical High School have agreed to help install it.
Sandidge asked that the commission allow the Friends to site their “Dog Bark” on the playground under an agreement, such as is used by the Little League, rather than a formal lease like the one used to allow the Friends of Grandmothers Garden to use the park on Smith Avenue.
The playground is the home field for the North division of Westfield Little League with two fenced ball fields and associated structures.
Sandidge said that the only thing needed is a walkway which bypasses the snack bar at the Little League ball field which she said would be a distraction to dogs passing it.
Commissioner Renee Wroth said that she was concerned that a route which avoided the snack bar would take arriving and departing dogs through the spectators where children might approach the dogs.
Commissioner Kim Irzyk said that she is concerned about additional use of the parking facilities saying “Parking is already a nightmare there” during the Little League season.
Commissioner Robert “Chico” Veronesi suggested that the site of the proposed park could be in the area where foul balls from the nearby baseball diamond might land and Blascak said that the area proposed is about 30 feet away from the left field foul pole at the nearest field.
Commissioner Sara Unger said “This has to be one of the most used parks in the city” and expressed concern that both the dog lover and the Little League participants would be using the facilities at the same time.
Both Blascak and Commissioner Ray Rivera pointed out that the Little League only uses the playground for about three months of the year and others at the meeting suggested that the dog owners are likely to voluntarily limit their usage of the facility during the summer weekends and other times when ball players flock to the playground.
Both Rivera and Blascak said that probably more people at the park would result in less vandalism as there would be more people seeing – and reporting – anything untoward in the park, such as vandalism or drinking.
Wroth suggested that Hampden Ponds Playground would be “ideal” for a dog park but other pointed out that it’s location on the edge of the city would be inconvenient for many residents.
Commission chairman Kenneth Magarian said that all city departments were advised of the possibility of using either Arms Brook Park or Paper Mill Playground for a dog park and, although concerns were raised about the park by the Flood Control Commission, nobody had objected to locating a dog park at the playground.
Magarian and others said that input should be solicited from both the School Department and the Little League and both groups can send representatives to the hearing.
The commissioners agreed with Magarian when he said that a public hearing is “the first step” in the approval process and agreed to plan a hearing as soon as possible, with the intention of staging a hearing before the commission’s next regular meeting, so that the commission can act on the proposal then, if it is warranted.
Blascak was charged by the commission to determine the requirements for a public hearing and Magarian said that the commission would prepare a press release when the hearing is scheduled.
Carl Hartdegen can be reached at [email protected]