JPA Votes Against First Church Dog Park Plan

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

During the Jamaica Pond Association’s (JPA) monthly meeting on Monday, Mar. 6, a majority of the association’s board voted in favor of formally opposing the First Church in Jamaica Plain’s plans to create a fenced-in off-leash dog park in its burial ground.

This formal opposition would involve sending a letter emphasizing the JPA’s opposition to the dog park to the Church and the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). However, although the JPA does not favor a dog park at the proposed location, the letter would also advocate for a dog park just in a different area of Jamaica Plain.

According to Bonnie McBride, who offered a wealth of background information on the subject – the dog park is something that has been in the works since June of 2021.

“I understand that in congregational meetings in December ’21 and again in May of ’22, the church congregation voted to have its governing board explore this idea further,” said McBride.

However, it was also noted that since 2021 some community members have opposed this and made it known. These feelings were communicated via a letter to the church’s governing board with over 30 signatures noting community concerns in July of 2021.

Seemingly reading from that letter, McBride said the proposed dog park “is not an appropriate or respectful use of a historic and what some consider sacred space.”

Even with the aforementioned letter, the church continued with its plans. “Knowing the church was continuing to explore the dog park idea, we turned to the Massachusetts Historical Commission in February ’22 for possible assistance in stopping the church’s efforts,” said McBride.

“The MHC holds a preservation restriction on the church, which is based on the church having received development grant funds in the past. Per its [MHC] website, a preservation restriction protects historic and archaeological properties from changes that may be inappropriate.”

Although the MHC, as McBride stated, protects from inappropriate changes, she explained that it was found in January that the commission granted the church a six-month pilot program for the dog park. This prompted another letter sent in February to the MHC and its Chair, William Galvin, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, in opposition to the decision.

Moreover, the church congregation is expected to vote on this pilot program just over a week from now on Sunday, Mar. 19.

“We believed then, and we believe now that the construction and operation of a dog park in the church’s historic burial ground would be highly inappropriate,” said McBride.

There were also several concerns about the church’s efforts to keep an open dialogue with the JPA regarding the project.

“Certainly, when it comes to the JPA, we’ve heard nothing, and yet we tried to communicate with them … It was a year ago at least; I remember hand delivering a letter to the church,” said Kay Mathews.

However, it should be noted that Mathews did say that nobody from the church was formally invited to the meeting for representation.

Other concerns related to the park included maintenance of the site and the noise that would coincide with many dogs and owners being there.

While there seemed to be overwhelming opposition to the dog park, those who did speak in opposition at the meeting emphasized that a dog park needs to happen somewhere in Jamaica Plain.

“I absolutely agree that the city and the neighborhood needs a dog park somewhere – I think it’s completely inappropriate that it be in the graveyard,” said Anne McHugh.

Another resident, Susan Siebert, also said, “It bothers me that it’s [the dog park] at a graveyard site. It also bothers me that we’ve been trying for years to get the DCR [Department of Conservation and Recreation] and the City of Boston to designate a public dog park in Jamaica Plain.”

In the end, although the JPA is opposing the church’s dog park, it is clear that many realize the need for a dog park in Jamaica Plain – just not in a historic burial ground.

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