Off-Leash Dog Program Public Meeting
Tuesday, June 15th, 7:00 p.m.
Arlington Town Hall
Joe Connelly began the Public Meeting held by the Arlington Park and Recreation Commission (PRC) by outlining the structure for the evening. He explained that the meeting was an opportunity to solicit input for the implementation of the Article 36 bylaw, recently approved by Town Meeting regarding limited off-leash dog hours and locations in Arlington. Because Article 36 already passed at Town Meeting, this meeting was not the time to discuss the bylaw itself, we would instead use the time to discuss the implementation of the new bylaw. Article 36 does not take effect until it has been approved by the Attorney General's Office, which most likely won’t occur until the Fall. Mr. Connelly explained that this is the first meeting, and that he plans to hold another one just before school starts with a finalized draft
of the implementation plan.
Joe Connelly (Director of Recreation) and Leslie Mayer (Chairwoman of Park and Recreation Commission) presented and accepted questions and answers, also present from the PRC was Jen Rothenberg.
Ms. Mayer showed a PowerPoint presentation that reviewed the language of the bylaw and clearly defined the specific properties that are affected by the change. The bylaw excludes any school properties and any fields that are contiguous to schools.
Ms. Mayer explained that the PRC has the authority to exclude any park properties or hours, but cannot expand to include new properties or add more hours.
The fields where dogs are allowed off-leash are clearly outlined in the attached handout.
Temporary signs will be posted in the parks. They will most likely be laminated 11” x 17” sheets. Someone raised the question as whether the signs would be lit. Mr. Connelly explained that this is a pilot program, and that he did not want to invest any funds into the program until it was clear which locations worked, and which didn’t.
One way the PRC will determine whether off-leash hours are working in a particular location will be logging the number of complaints he receives. Mr. Connelly explained that if one area gets multiple complaints, then the hours would be carefully reviewed. Ms. Mayer reminded everyone that the PRC meets on the 2nd Tuesday of the month between September and June and holds one meeting during the summer. The Off-leash policy will be on the agenda for every meeting starting this summer.
Michelle Durocher: (McClennen Park) wants the PRC to consider excluding the back meadow and the areas adjacent to Reeds Brook, because of the uniqueness of the area. She feels there’s quite a bit of wildlife present especially during early morning hours. She has seen herons, coyotes and foxes out there and believes there is a safety issue and would like the animals to coexist.
Jay Weinberg: (Precinct 15) asked whether the dog officer will be able to monitor and enforce this new bylaw. Mr. Connelly stated that this question comes up a lot and that it really is a self-enforcing policy. This will be an educational process and users of the parks will have to let us know what works and what doesn’t. Brochures will be printed and handed out to dog-owners and park users.
Jim Gibbons: Stated that in his opinion 80% of dog owners will pick up after their dogs and 20% won't. He feels there should be a penalty for not following the bylaw. Ms.Mayer outlined the existing penalties, first violation: warning, then a $75 fine, $100 fine, and she was unclear about the amount for the fourth violation. Mr.Gibbons asked how much money in penalties has been assessed in the past 12 months? Ms. Mayer thought 11 violations had been issued.
Elsie Fiore: (TMM, Precinct 2) Ms. Fiore stated that she opposed this at TM. She does not mind people walking their dogs on leashes but wanted to know how to manage the urine smell. She has some concerns about fencing at Thorndike Field as well as safety concerns for those walking under the bridge. Mr. Connelly explained that there are no fences being proposed at this time.
Doug Sanford: oncerned about the hours of Robbins Farm Park. Mr. Sanford thinks there should be a hard stop at 7 am. There are exercise programs at the Brackett school that begin at 7:30 am. ~Mr. Connelly asked the audience if the programs are at RFP at that hour and the answer was that they take place inside the school.
Susan ?: Would like to see the hours be extended during the morning time at RFP. She wants this program to succeed based on the spirit of cooperation and sharing for all uses at the park. She explained that when others are playing frisbee or baseball or basketball, that she stays out of their way. ~Mr. Connelly pointed out that the only time that is restricted is from 8:30 to 9. ~Ms. D asked if 8:15-8:30 was being considered because that is more convenient for people who need to go to work.
Iain Miller: (Precinct 8, A-Dog) Wants neighbors to help with the self-policing aspect by shaming perpetrators. Is willing to be the contact person at Menotomy Rocks Park. Mr. Miller believes the self-policing is the key to the success of this program. Mr. Connelly explained that there aren’t enough officers to police every park in town so this pilot program needs to be self-policing. He stressed that we will be relying on dog owners and field users to help with this.
Christine Deshler: Concerned about money. Ms. Deshler was under the impression that this wouldn’t cost anything but now sees that there is a need for signs. She strongly recommended financing these through private donations, and not use taxpayer money to produce the signs. Mr. Connelly said that A-Dog has committed funds. Ms.Mayer showed a copy of the sign and explained that it was not going to be fancy, just laminated paper.
Darcy Devney: Wants to know whether the bylaw states sunrise, dawn, 7 am, or 6 am? ~Ms. Mayer said it's 6:00 am everywhere. Ms. Devney also wanted to know if dog walkers are restricted to two dogs. Ms. Mayer explained that the bylaw started with 3 and TM modified it to 2. Ms. Devney asked why Saturdays are different when there are also games on Sundays at the same time. Mr. Connelly said that games don't start before 9 am on Sundays. He has reviewed the games schedule and although baseball starts early, those fields are excluded. There is soccer on Sunday’s but it doesn’t start until noon. Ms. Devney asked how the exceptions were created at RFP. ~Mr. Connelly explained that they looked closely at the times kids walk through the park, PE usage, and has had conversations with the PTO at Brackett. Mr.
Connelly said he would take another look at the field usages around town, particularly on Sunday mornings.
Sue Doctrow: (A-Dog) Her group felt signs weren’t necessary in parks where dogs were not allowed but understood why the PRC wants to use them. Ms. Doctrow asked what the cost of the signs would be for laminated and for permanent. Mr. Connelly thought the laminated ones were very inexpensive and the permanent ones would run close to $100 per sign. Ms. Mayer explained that's why the plan is to wait on more permanent signs Ms. Doctrow reiterated that A-Dog is willing to help with the costs of the signs. Ms. Doctrow asked whether there are any lighted signs in town. Mr. Connelly said they are against the bylaws.
Adam Glick: Talked about the 8:00 am cutoff on Saturdays at RFP as a potential problem. He suggested using the lower part of Suicide Hill up until 9:00 am since it's so far away from the fields. Mr. Glick also asked how the PRC would handle complaints at 9:01 each day. Mr. Connelly explained that if they come in repeatedly, then the PRC would have to reevaluate the plan. Mr. Glick is concerned that if dog owners don’t have their dogs on leash at exactly 9:00 and someone calls every day then that seems punitive and abusive. Mr. Connelly suggested playing it safe and getting dogs on leash by 8:59 to avoid any complaints.
Mustafa Varoglu: Commended the PRC for listening and going through this process. Mr. Varoglu stated that he thought the program would be a success if there were fewer dogs off-leash during the afternoons. He is concerned about the 8:30-9 re-opening of RFP since the entire park is unfenced and has no barriers. Mr. Varoglu worries that a dog with half the speed of a greyhound could cover 50 yds in 5 seconds. Mr. Varoglu talked about the area behind the backstop and stated that he’s seen dog owners throw balls toward Eastern Ave. and says the dogs don’t stay up in that area. Mr. Varoglu is concerned that the 15-foot barrier between dogs and playgrounds is too close. Dogs move very fast and that 25 to 50 feet would be better. There should also be stakes in the ground to help give some visual
cue to dog owners.
Greg Porfido (Hawthorne Ave., RFP) Stated that he thought the conversation was a little scattered and not very productive. He asked the PRC to hold individual meetings for individual parks, especially RFP. He would like to see this plan work but thinks this proposal needs work. Focus on individual parks - all are different. Last year’s meeting was not productive.
Deanna Bryant: The meeting last year was not congenial at all. Asked about using the area around the water tower, doesn’t think it gets any use now.
Amy Goldstein: Asserted that RFP is quite a large park. It’s hard to see from one corner to the other. The off-leash areas are far away from the playground and the path near the oval. There are a number of different areas in the park with individual uses for each of those areas.
Alan Jones: (RFP) has been spending a lot of time at Robbins because of the garden. Doesn’t like hearing that kids are afraid of dogs. Encourages PRC and A-Dog to organize programs to teach children to be socialized with dogs. They should play more with dogs and need to be less afraid of them.
Alan McNiffe: Asked why the little league fields were excluded. Mr. Connelly explained that they are completely fenced in and that he didn’t want those areas to get turned into fenced dog parks. They are in use from April 1 through the end of August. Mr. McNiffe asked about the other 7 months of the year. Ms. Mayer explained the concern about the overall wear on the fields, and that grass is not recommended as a surface for an enclosed area with dogs.
Bruce Whetle: (RFP)Asked about police involvement. Stated that the enforcement is non-existent and there are problems all the time. The problems began about 5 years ago at Robbins. He see dogs off-leash at RFP on weekends from 8-10 am in packs of 15-25 people and equal number of dogs. Thinks the program is too ambitious. Agreed that the bottom of Suicide Hill might work as an out-of-the way spot for off-leash dogs.
Mary McCartney: (TMM and A-Dog) Thank you for coming up with a reasonable compromise. It’s a sensible way to share town resources. Dog owners pay taxes too and are only asking for a very small slice of the parks. This plan is actually more restrictive than a lot of the neighboring towns.
Chad Mikkelson: The hours are fairly limited and there are possibilities for compromises. Chad is concerned about the locations and designating areas of the park as “off leash areas" turning it into a de facto dog park. ~Does not like seeing a designated area M-F behind the backstop only (right near his house) because it becomes a dog park. Chad asked about moving the location of the off-leash areas to different locations throughout the park. Or to consider using the center of the park, moving dogs further from people's homes. Feels there should not be any off-leash hours when PE classes are out there. Would like to be a part of a more interactive discussion.
Susan Bernhard: (RFP) Disagreed with the statement that last year’s negotiations were not productive. Ms. Bernhard said the structure of that meeting did not work very well. However the outcome of that meeting was a seven-page document, with only one issue left to agree on – the afternoon hours. There are many days when the PE classes are not on the field in the mornings. And during the winter no one is out there. Maybe moving the off-leash area around the park would relieve some of the pressure on the abutters. Ms. Bernhard asked about the school year schedule and vacations. Ms. Mayer said they are not being specific to the school calendar; people shouldn’t have to know when school is in session. Mr. Connelly stated that one of the reasons this bylaw passed was that it is much simpler.
However, the implementation is bringing up issues that can’t be defined with a few bullet points. Ms. Bernhard said a special RFP meeting might work, but the PRC needs to be clear about who is invited.
Michael McClean: Concerned about the 15-foot limit. Thinks 50 feet is the bare minimum, and 100 feet would make more sense. 15 feet is a very short distance. The problem is not whether people are comfortable around dogs – they have legitimate safety concerns. Preserve the simplicity. We are creating a complicated issue just to carve out a ½ hour for dog-walkers. Kids should not have to walk a different route to school in order to allow more off leash hours. The field should not be open for off leash hours when children are in PE class.
Dave Ledwig: (Newport St.) Thanked the PRC for all their efforts on this. TM voted for this program and it’s clear that something that needs to be done.
Tom Lynch: (lives near Magnolia and Thorndike) Would like to expand the hours to include some time before 6 am. Mr. Lynch needs to get to work early in the morning and wants to be able to walk his dog before he leaves. People shouldn’t let their dogs off-leash is they can’t control them. Goose poop is a much bigger problem at Magnolia Field than dog poop. ~Mr. Connelly reiterated that he is locked into the 6-9 am hours and cannot go beyond that.
Robin Varghese: (RFP) Concerned about reducing the hours, not increasing them. Suggests beginning at 8:15 instead of 8:30. Parents drop their children off at Brackett and like to meet at the park. Regarding enforcement, Mr. Varghese stated that the police will not be able to enforce this bylaw and this change will take some of the burden off of them. During the winter months, most kids are being dropped off by their parents and not walking across the field. Mr. Varghese addressed the 15-foot limit, stating that no one wants to own a dog that bites. Dog owners aren’t going within 15 feet of the playground – they’re staying as afar away as possible form kids.
Mary Bacarello: (Hawthorne Ave., RFP) Asked if Article 2 has been modified? Is it still in effect or enforceable? And does the PRC receive the police reports? ~Ms. Mayer said that she has asked to see anything that deals with incidents at parks.
Lisa Streit: Asked when in history has self-policing ever worked? Currently you have said that they rules are not being followed. What makes the Commission think that rules will be followed with the new bylaw? Mr.~Connelly stated that Article 36 has already passed and that we are not here to discuss that. Once the Attorney General approves it, we are going to have off-leash dog hours from 6-9. ~So right now we have to focus on the implementation. ~Ms. Streit stated that the town is 5.5 square miles; we have 18 off-leash areas – which is a lot - maybe even a little excessive. I don't see any solution coming out of these meetings. ~Suggested a fenced in area is the solution. Does not think this plan is working and thinks it's a waste of time, energy and money. Mr. Connelly mentioned that there is a dog park task
force that is looking at fenced in areas.
Monique Chaplain: (Precinct 1) we are attempting to create something that meets everyone's needs. The PRC has worked hard to think about each area, and Ms. Chaplin appreciates their willingness to be on call for public feedback. ~Thanks the PRC for their efforts.
Ruth McAllister: (Hawthorne Ave. and RFP)~Questioned whether self-policing would work. A dog jumped her rock wall while her child was in the backyard and had had to run into the house. Ms. McAllister suggested that maybe the rotation might work but why are they always up at the backstop? When are too many dogs, too many? There should be a limit to the number of dogs off-leash at one time. This will attract out of town people and then who is going to police them? People will think Arlington is a dog Town.
Peggy Gardner: (Menotomy Rocks Park) Worked for two years with Clarissa Rowe trying to figure out a solution. There should be a positive motivation for dog walkers to follow the rules. She has had problems with dogs in the parks when she’s gone there to play with her own grandchildren. Many of the people in the parks are good people, but they aren’t following the rules.
Steve Shaedel: (RFP) Expressed concerns about self-policing in general and that there isn’t any historical precedent that it's going to work. Mr. Schaedel is also concerned about the 15-foot limit from a playground worried thinks it’s too short a distance. Mr. Schaedel questioned the 8:30 – 9:00 time slot and whether or not we really need that time open. He has two kids and hasn’t had any problems but his youngest is terrified of dogs. Arlington is a dense community and RFP can get very crowded at certain times of day.
Greg Porfido: Reiterated that the law has been passed and that the PRC has been charged with creating a fair and working program. Asked again whether a separate meeting would be set up. Mr. Connelly said he would take it under advisement.
Ellen Kravitz: Concerned that this dog issue has been blown out of proportion and asked what really happens on a daily basis? 95% of dog owners pick up and don’t let dogs off-leash. What are the real statistics on the issue? What about litter in the parks? That’s a bigger problem. Does not think this will create more dog walkers in the parks, there won’t be a huge increase and we shouldn’t panic.
Darcey Devney: Park Circle is a PRC property, isn’t it available from 6 – 9. Wants the PRC to consider fencing in the playground at RFP. Asked about communication and why Menotomy and Robbins are the worst parks in Arlington. ~These are the precincts with the most dogs in Arlington. Also concerned about out of town dog owners. ~Online, Menotomy has a good reputation to let dogs off-leash. PRC should be careful about how this program is communicated.
Amy Goldstein: Says there are many parks in town where there are no dogs. Her dog likes to chase balls so she wouldn’t take him to a small park where there are children. The areas for dogs and the areas for kids are close together in some of the parks.
Speaker?: (RFP) You can make the limitation 100 feet, or 200 feet, dog walkers don't care, because we are nowhere near the playground, we’re at the backstop. 15 years been going to RFP and hasn’t seen many out-of-town dog owners there. And no one is gathered there at 9am on the weekends. Looking for a good compromise.
Michael McClean: Would like to get better statistics, but knows there is no money to do that. Is concerned about people self-policing. Why aren’t people obeying the law now?
Sue Doctrow: Explained how the 15-foot language got put in the bylaw. She said it originally said that dogs are not allowed on the playground. A-Dog added the 15-foot language so that it was stronger than most bylaws. They wanted to get across that it was to help keep the equipment and surrounding area clean.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:15.
Notes taken by Jennifer Rothenberg, Park Commission