PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A portion of Burbank Park has been identified as the best location for a dog park.
The Parks Commission agreed and endorse the recommendation from a study group to use between one and two acres of land for the park. The dog park is eyed to be fenced in with separate sections for large and small dogs. The parks are areas in which pet owners can let their pups off leash, which isn't currently allowed in city parks.
"It is not used a whole lot by other users so I don't think there would be a lot of conflicts. It is a good location," said commission Chairman Simon Muil.
The location is near an existing water tower, easily accessible, and poses no environmental concerns. The site was the top of 11 the study committee examined. The next step would be for the city to secure a grant from the Stanton Foundation, which Parks Commissioner Joe Durwin said city staff has already begun looking into, to design it. From there, the city would be seeking construction funds.
"It is already a partially developed site because of the water tower, which makes it ideal. It is also not too approximate to neighbors," Durwin said.
Durwin said construction could be under way as early as spring 2018. That would be some 12 years since serious discussions about a park began. In 2006, the Parks Commission considered a ban on dogs at Burbank Park because of excessive dog droppings. That debate led to the idea of a dog park and an ad hoc committee started looking at sites.
That committee determined Kirvin Park and Springside Park were the top locations. The Parks Commission approved using Springside Park but funding was not available until 2013. The Stanton Foundation offered a grant for construction and the proposal ended up being larger than previous versions and opposition rose against it. Ultimately, the City Council said the site should be re-examined before moving forward.
In 2016, the Animal Control Commission reinvigorated the discussion and Mayor Linda Tyer formed the study group. That group released its findings to the Parks Commission this week and the Animal Control Commission last week.
"Mainly the focus is on the site, the park, and the criteria and amenities," Durwin said. "With this commission's endorsement, we can refer this back to Mayor Tyer. I think there is definitely interest in the administration to pursue this project."
The Burbank Park plan would call for some tree removal but Durwin said the Berkshire Environmental Action Team reviewed it and raised no concerns. And it wouldn't be extensive because now the thought is to have a mix of wooded areas and open space.
The plan would also call for the creation of a small parking lot.
The criteria for determining a spot included being more than a half acre, being buffered from residential neighbors, have a source of drinking water, parking, suitable land, area of shade, away from other recreational areas, environmental issues, and if there were to be multiple dog parks that they be equally accessible to different parts of the city.
The group also developed guidelines such as no lighting, a donation box for maintenance, trash containers, and other amenities. And it developed a list of rules.
Last week, the Animal Control Commission focused mostly on a proposed age restriction. That commission doesn't want children under the age of 16 to be in the park.
"I just don't think it is a really great idea to have young children in a park where dogs are running around off leash," Animal Control Commissioner Renee Dodds said.
Dodds said having children in the park poses a safety concern about being bitten or knocked over. Animal Control Commission Chairman John Reynolds, a veterinarian, said, "one of the scariest things for dogs is toddlers," so the age restriction is reasonable.
The list of 14 rules was developed in consultation with the city's insurance company. The rules state that the owner or the custodian of a dog is responsible for that dog's actions and that at the first sign of aggression, a dog must be removed.
There will not be anybody on site all of the time to police the rules but Dodds said a friends group will be formed to provide additional eyes at the park. Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague said he will try to get there as often as possible but he doesn't have much of a concern.
"Generally they police themselves very well. Nobody is going to stand for an aggressive dog being there and they'll blow the whistle," Chague said.
The city already has what is being referred to as "unsanctioned dog parks" and Chague says the animal owners are always right on the phone when some incident arises. Such a park is generally controlled by the users.
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