The Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) met virtually on July 12, where members and neighbors discussed an issue around people using the historic cemetery at the First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist as a dog park.
Resident Bonnie McBride raised the issue with the JPA, saying that as a direct abutter to the burial ground, for years she has observed the area being used for such things as children’s art programs, and as a spot to read or eat lunch, “exactly what you would expect at a historic burial ground,” she said.
McBride said that about two and a half years ago, new signs were installed that informed residents that the grounds were closed from dusk to dawn, and that dogs must remain leashed at all times.
“As of about 18 months ago, the burial ground began unfortunately to be used as a dog park,” McBride said, and “more and more what I call ‘free range dogs’ were loose in the burial ground.”
She said that sometimes there are “up to 10-12 dogs racing about the burial ground during the day,” but there are usually fewer than that. She said the dogs urinate on gravestones, plants are torn up, and feces is not picked up from neighbors’ yards. Additionally, she said the dogs “bark and occasionally fight with one another.”
McBride said that “I have great empathy with the dog owners,” adding that a dog park is absolutely needed in the neighborhood, but she does not believe a location like this that is so close to residential yards is the appropriate place for one.
She said two other neighbors have shared her concerns, and they got in touch with folks at the First Church who deal with maintenance of the burial ground.
On June 4, she said that she and her neighbor met with people from the church to speak about the dogs.
“It became quite apparent from our conversation that there is a quid pro quo relationship in place between the local dog owners,” she said, “in return for occasional yard work and donations to the church. She said a sign is now up asking for donations to the church.
“In return, we learned the church was considering installing a fenced-in dog run” that would run north to south through the burial ground.
She said that she and her neighbors asked to meet with the Governing Board at the church before a final decision is made.
This issue sparked a lengthy conversation between members of the JPA and the community.
JPA member Martin Thompson said that he does “have some sympathy for trying to raise revenue in any way possible through use of the facility,” though he did add that he is “not a huge fan of dogs in a residential neighborhood…”
JPA member Kevin Moloney said he was not a fan of the church trying to raise funds in this manner.
JPA member David Moir said he agreed with Moloney, and that JP does need a proper dog park.
“Dog parks are important,” he said. “The mental health benefits of dogs are totally uncontested,” but he did add that he believes places like the historic burial ground “should be respected as such.”
JPA member Michael Reiskind said that there is an “informal one (dog park) on the Southwest Corridor off Oakdale that is used pretty successfully.” He also said that dog owners have “used the Eliot School area as a dog park for many years,” but were told to stop, so that “created a new demand for using the burial ground.”
JPA member Franklyn Salimbene said that there are “health issues” and this is also a “historical issue.” He said he believes that the “church should not feel like it can do whatever it wants.”
Kay Mathews, who is a member of the JPA and also of the First Church of Jamaica Plain, said that the focus for the JPA should be on helping to find a location to site a proper dog park.
“These are good people,” she said, adding that “there is an ongoing discussion” between different people in the church.
“I think it would be great if there were a way to have a collective meeting around this issue.”
JPA Chair Rosemary Jones said she is “sympathetic to what Kay is saying and to Bonnie and her cohorts.”
Moloney suggested writing a letter saying that the JPA wants to meet “with appropriate officials of the church to discuss the concerns that the abutters, that we as an organization have.”
He continued, “we need to support the folks who live close by who don’t want it to continue.”
JPA member Martin Thompson said that “we would be acting without any other representation from the other party. I have an issue with that. Typically we hear both sides.”
Mathews said that nothing is set in stone yet from the church’s perspective. “They’re taking about it; they’re trying to figure out what they can do to be good neighbors.”
In the end, the JPA voted to write a letter to church officials saying that members of the JPA discussed issues with the dog park that were brought up by abutters, and that Mathews will act as a person of contact for McBride and her neighbors, which Mathews agreed to. The vote was nine in favor, four opposed, and one abstention.
Following the JPA meeting, The First Church in Jamaica Plain created an invitation for a community listening session regarding the burial ground. The listening session will take place via Zoom on Thursday, July 29 at 7pm.
“The purpose of the meeting will be to solicit community feedback on community use of our burying ground,” the invitation reads. “Please jin us as we cultivate community and gather information for the Governing Board to utilize going forward.”
757 Centre St.
At the June JPA meeting, the owner of the Dunkin’ at 757 Centre St. proposed to make some changes to the building, including adding a takeout window and removing indoor seating and restrooms for customers, but a neighbor came and expressed concerns with the new LED lighting that had been installed on the building. The JPA had asked the owner to come back with a solution for that, but JPA Zoning Committee Chair Kevin Moloney reported at the July meeting that a resolution had been worked out in the meantime, so the JPA voted not to oppose the proposed work.