Effort underway to bring JP a dog park after City shuts down Beecher Street

Jamaica Plain dog owners and City Councilor Matt O’Malley are taking actions to establish a legal dog park in the neighborhood, potentially on the Southwest Corridor Park, after the City shut down the informal dog space at the Beecher Street Park.

The effort comes following the Boston Parks and Recreation Department (BPRD) recent removal of the resident-erected fence at the Beecher Street Park, which was a response to complaints from neighbors. The fence had allowed dogs to run off-leash at the park.

The use of the space as a dog park had both opponents and proponents, which was on display during a community meeting in January regarding the use of the park. Since the removal of the fence this month, BPRD spokesperson Ryan Woods said that the department, which owns the park, received approximately 20 to 25 emails with feedback from both sides.

Nina Robinson, a JP resident who started a Beecher Street dog park group after the meeting in January, said that dog owners who used the Beecher Street Park were disappointed to hear about the removal of the fence, particularly the people who rely on the space as the only option where to bring their dogs off-leash. The members of her group were notified about a week prior to the removal of the fence.

“It’s disappointing to lose the space, but more so that it happened so quickly, particularly when all the communication we received from the Parks Department was that they were going to replace the fence,” Robinson said. “It didn’t give people much time to figure out other options.”

Woods said that a new fence will be built at the park “because we promised the community that we would replace it.” The fence, however, will not have a gate, making it more difficult for dogs to run off-leash without the risk of running into traffic. The law does and will continue to mandate that dogs are not allowed to run off-leash in public areas, according to Woods. He said leash laws are enforced by the City’s Animal Control, as the Park Rangers only patrol the Emerald Necklace parks on a regular basis.

BPRD also intends on re-seeding the grass in the fall, and erecting a standard sign to identify the park and Boston park rules.

“All of the communications with the Parks Department was very nice, and everyone was very helpful, but what we learned was that in retrospect, we really should have done more work to petition the Park Department in a positive and supportive way,” Robinson said. “We could have called and sent emails about how much we really value and appreciate the space.”

Since the removal of the fence, a petition to bring a dog park to JP has been started. The petition, which is to be delivered to various City officials and agencies, has garnered 459 signatures at the Gazette deadline. The petition was started by Eva Kaniasty, a JP resident and dog owner.

The petition calls for action to create official dog parks and off-leash areas within the state Department of Conservation and Recreation-owned Southwest Corridor Park or City-owned Franklin Park. The petition can be found online at bit.ly/2bcQ2uZ.

“JP’s dog owners are an engaged group, ready to work with the City and other local organizations to find legal and safe areas to exercise their dogs in the neighborhood,” the petition reads.

“The closing of the Beecher Street Park has been the short-term impetus for this petition, but this issue has been on my mind for a while,” said Kaniasty. “Last year, there was a short-lived effort by Franklin Park Coalition to create an off-leash area, but it petered out after a change of leadership.”

O’Malley is in support of the petition and says his office is monitoring its comments.

“It’s important to show support,” he said. “If and when we identify a location, it’s always important to have a board of directors or overseers, so I will need as many people who are concerned about this to help us as we go forward to maintain the health and safety of the [new] park.”

Kaniasty refers to Brookline’s Green Dog program in her petition as an example for a positive program to look to for inspiration. The program is run by the City of Brookline, and utilizes 14 areas across the town for specific off-leash hours established by the Parks and Recreation Commission. The program requires an annual fee to participate of $100 per non-resident dog, which as Kaniasty points out, “is not a small fee to pay for someone who is lower income.”

Kaniasty says she has been a non-resident member of the program in the past, and was drawn to it for their fenced in dog park on Brookline Avenue and the off-leash area in Larz Anderson Park.

Kaniasty thinks that what the Green Dog program does well is to have chosen areas that do not have direct abutters, set guidelines and hours for off-leash usage, and actively maintain their properties. “I think that all of these are essential for success,” she said.

For Robinson, successful dog parks rely on community involvement and good relationships with the City.

“We’re definitely 110 percent committed to doing what is needed to get that off the ground, but considering how complicated the [City zoning] systems are, having O’Malley on board to help push through those systems that we aren’t that familiar is really great,” Robinson said. “We’re really grateful to him for that.”

Woods thinks that the key to establishing a City dog park is funding.

“Other dog parks that [BPRD] have are all completely funded by the community. The City has not done a dog park; it’s all been done by residents,” he said. “If the community wanted a dog park, they would have to financially support it.”

He recommended that the group of dog owners apply for grants to get the park off the ground.

“It’s up to residents to push for this,” Woods said. “It needs to be a campaign.”

Meanwhile, O’Malley wrote a letter to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) urging that a space in the Southwest Corridor Park be found for an alternative site for a dog park. A meeting has been arranged for O’Malley to discuss this possibility with BRPD Commissioner Chris Cook and DCR Commissioner Leo Roy for Sept. 1.

“I hope it will go very positively,” O’Malley said about the meeting. “I understand the concerns of neighbors who were upset about Beecher Street dog park. I know it worked well for many years, and I went down there to visit several times. That mutual agreement and understanding [of dog owners and abutters] seemed to dissipate, especially when dog walkers came with a lot of dogs.”

“I firmly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said O’Malley. “I’d like to see action happen as quickly as possible.”

Troy Wall, a spokesperson for DCR, said in a statement, “The Department of Conservation and Recreation always appreciates the opportunity to review ideas that have the potential to encourage new visitors to utilize, explore, and enjoy the Commonwealth’s state parks system.”

O’Malley mentioned that dog owners are be able to bring their dogs over to the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center to let them run off-leash at its private park, which it allows the public to use. However, that was not the case for a short while this week. MSPCA temporarily closed the park after a recent dog fight that led to an injury. The park has since re-opened, but with restrictions, including the ban of dog walkers.

“Following an internal investigation into last week’s incident—a fight between two dogs which resulted in the hospitalization of one of the animals—we are no longer permitting professional dog walkers to use the park.  Despite efforts to balance access to the park with safety for visitors, the arrival of multiple dogs, handled by just one person, creates an ongoing safety concern for the community,” said Rob Halpin, spokesperson of the MSPCA.

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