DCR dog park plan receives mixed reviews

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) unveiled a plan during an April 5 community meeting to build an off-leash dog recreation area within the Southwest Corridor Park near Anson Street, which was met with mixed reviews, since it entails replacing a hockey rink.

The meeting at English High School on April 5 was filled with about 50 residents, most of which identified themselves as dog owners. DCR Commissioner Leo Roy moderated the meeting and answered questions, as many residents shared their comments and questions regarding the proposal.

The idea proposed is to use the existing street hockey rink and convert it into a dog park, which would have an area of approximately 4,000 square feet. Roy said that DCR is looking at revamping the hockey rink because they believe it is not heavily used, and that a dog park would get more use.

Other amenities currently in the park vicinity are a playground and a community garden. The new dog park would include a fenced enclosure with a double gate, signage, new surface poured, and site furnishings like trash cans and dog water fountains. Proposed operational rules would allow the park to be used by dog owners, not commercial dog walkers, anytime from dawn to dusk.

The estimated cost of the park would be between $75,000 and $100,000, and Roy made it clear at the meeting that DCR needs local residents to fundraise to be able to build park. He also said that a friends group would be necessary to maintain and support the park.

Jamaica Plain City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who has been working with Roy regarding the need for a dog park in the neighborhood, spoke in support of the proposal.

“I am a big proponent of dog parks, and particularly what this park could mean,” O’Malley said. “The benefits of having a dog park in a neighborhood are too numerous to count. There is a demonstrated positive effect in terms of public safety, public health, overall quality of life, and building communities. We don’t have many of these parks in Boston, and it’s high time that we got into gear.”

Local resident Lee Robert emphasized that the need for the park is dire.

“If there was a friends group for this park, I would be the first to sign up,” Robert said. “People would really care about this and would turn that piece of land around.”

Jamie Damus, a founder and the treasurer of a South End dog park also located on the Southwest Corridor Park, offered her advice and support for the logistical details of planning the park.

“It is work,” Damus said about the upkeep of the park. “We do have to raise money every year, about $3-4,000 for the basics.”

Some close abutters to the park spoke up in opposition to the proposal, objecting to the fact that the existing hockey rink would be taken away. Michael Kio of Rosemary Street has lived in the neighborhood his whole life.

“I am not in favor of this at all. I think it’s a shame to take anything away from children for the use of dogs,” Kio said.

One dog owner, Adam Engle, said that his dog was as important as a child would be to him.

“We as people have access to an entire world of pleasures, but our dogs don’t,” Engle said, supporting the project.

Some residents said they have rarely seen the rink being used, but some said that they do think the rink is useful to the community, like 12-year-old James Testa.

“I want to be a hockey player when I grow up,” Testa said. “I think that a better resolution would be to restore the park so that kids can play in the park.”

Testa said that the hockey rink should be supported to prevent obesity in children.

“I’m not against the dog park, but I oppose the demolition of an existing park,” Testa said.

“The rink is being used,” said George Simpson, who lives near the park. He added that “you all are not gonna fit into that tiny rink, and parking is already demanding in that neighborhood.”

The question of parking was raised for access to the potential park. Roy said that there would be essentially nowhere to park a vehicle. The surrounding area is resident only parking, and according to residents of that area, is already quite crowded.

Jeffrey Ferris, owner of Ferris Wheels, said that since the proposal offers no parking, the amenity would only really be available to people who can walk to the park.

A recurring comment was that Jamaica Plain needs more than one dog park. Many dog owners were excited to get one dog park off the ground, but emphasized that it needed to be part of a comprehensive plan to introduce more parks, so as not to overrun one park.

Overall, the group of residents at the meeting had mixed feelings about the proposal. Some felt that the park should not replace an existing facility, and others felt so strongly about the need to establish a dog park in the neighborhood that they were willing to look past this disadvantage.

Leo Roy said that DCR is trying to accommodate commercial dog walkers in their parks, but “want to put some reasonable limits on it for the safety of our visitors and facilities.” Consequently, DCR has recently drafted a Commercial Dog Walkers permit, which requires commercial dog walkers to acquire a permit to be able to walk up to four dogs on DCR land. Permits will have a one-time application fee of $35, and a $100 annual fee per walker.

DCR generally enforces an on-leash policy regarding dogs in their parks, but have been in the process of identifying other locations around the state for off-leash use. Last month, DCR proposed an off-leash dog area within the Stonybrook Reservation in Hyde Park, though that decision is still pending.

Public comment period for this park is open until April 21. To submit a comment, visit bit.ly/1jKBIZ8. After that time, DCR will decide to either pursue the creation of the park, or instead decide to evaluate other potential sites for a dog park in the neighborhood.

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