11-25-14 UPDATE: More on the dog park controversy in a thorough & balanced NewsWorks article by East Falls local Dan Pasquarello.
EFCC’s meeting last Monday evening covered a few sensitive topics, but by far the most emotionally-charged exchanges concerned the dog park’s proposed location on approximately 1/3 acre of undeveloped land behind Trolley Car cafe, currently believed to be owned by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
Full disclosure: we’re active members of the Dog Park group, and enthusiastically support more dog-friendly areas & activities in East Falls.
We’ve met with the neighbors personally, and reviewed their maps and documents. They’re a strong, sensible, tight-knit community with some very worthwhile points to consider, that certainly affect the long-term viability of a dog park in this location.
Unfortunately, the neighbors were unable to provide the presentation they’d planned for EFCC’s meeting. “Dog Park” only had 10 minutes on the agenda, so the Site Team presented their plans and then neighbors were asked to voice their concerns individually, in the form of a question. Obviously, such a format limited discussion considerably. They invited us to hear their side of the story in the hopes of discovering where, if anywhere, a compromise might be.
The neighbors — who call themselves “The Friends of Forgotten Park” — expressed a load of grievances. They feel invaded and snuck up on. They feel ignored and used by the community. For years they’ve worked together to clean up what had once been a railroad dump, and seems just when they set out the tiki torches, suddenly the city tries to snatch it away.
They’ve been their own quirky East Falls entity all this time, they just wanna be left alone and, in fact, this recent attention disturbs their sense of security.
Cause yeah, that stretch of Ridge looks… rough out front. But inside, these homes make great use of all the light & greenery out back.
The contrast is remarkable, it’s almost like two different sections of the city depending on which window you look out. The home owners here (and most of the neighbors we spoke with owned their homes) are a quirky, artsy bunch who love this weird part of East Falls, and truly appreciate it’s schizophrenic appeal.
“It’s like a mullet!” one resident quipped.
But good luck getting such sentiments to halt Development where it’s warranted.
While every potential dog park location will have its disapproving neighbors, we see three real concerns about this proposed spot near the Bathey, that appear to put the stated Dog Park plans in considerable jeopardy.
1. Debatable Property Lines: Seems the maps used by the Dog Park Site Team do not reflect Massoud Mantifar’s irregularly-shaped plot (a holdover from when the land had been parceled out & sold after the old City swimming pool was closed). A 1998 letter from the City of Philadelphia appears to confirm this, if true that means Mantifar’s property runs through both proposed play areas, whoops. (UPDATE 2015: After due diligence by the Dog Park site team, this was determined to be true and plans for a dog park here were abandoned).
2. RAH vs EFCC: Ooh boy. This little parcel of land has particularly interesting jurisdiction. For years, it’s been an area of contention between the “RAH” (Ridge-Allegheny-Hunting Park) Association, and East Falls’ community council:
“Blah blah blah gerrymandering…” “Blah blah blah rightfully ours…”
Apparently, they worked out a deal where EFCC and RAH share control, except in situations where they can’t agree, in which case the City councilman for the area (Curtis Jones) decides. For various reasons this situation bodes unfavorably for the Dog Park here.
3. At not even 1/3rd acre, that space is too cramped, and too close to neighbors. We’d love to speak with a dog park planner on what the recommended distance is, from a dog park’s boundaries to residential property. So far, we haven’t been able to find ANY successful dog parks so close to where people live (send links if you find them, please).
From what we can make of the plans, the proposed East Falls dog park appears to vary between 50 – 70ish feet from established housing — most experts recommend dog parks should not border residential property at all. In South Windsor, CT for example, a “Bark Park” built on town-owned land hundreds of feet from private residences has led to lawsuits about noise & traffic.
Another dog park in Olympia, Washington shut down in 2013 after only a year of operation due to neighbor complaints about noise, sanitation and parking. Yet another dog park — this one in San Mateo, CA — retained a lawyer to fight neighborhood opposition, who conceded in a 2013 interview:
“It was a bad idea to put a dog park behind people’s homes. Nobody in their right mind, no matter how much they love dogs, would want a dog park in their backyard.”
Even the Schuylkill River Dog Park — the “urban model” often cited in East Falls dog park planning meetings — is actually a park-within-a park, providing lots of buffer between dog runs and adjacent neighbors.
East Falls’ dog park motion was suspended Monday night until next month’s meeting, when the Dog Park Group will present data for their quoted statistics. Dog Park Group was also asked to speak directly with each and every neighbor and be prepared to address these concerns at the next community council meeting (to date, no residents have been contacted).
Waiting for monthly meetings is just one way to approach this need. While community organizations like EFCC play an important role in local planning, citizens can also contact their council representatives directly. Just bypass all the waiting & voting, and form their own coalition for or against any cause.
Which is pretty much the plan for Friends of Forgotten Park, at this point. And after some of the rudeness witnessed from community leaders at last Monday’s EFCC meeting, we don’t blame them. We’ve already posted some video, we have more that we’d rather not show frankly, it makes us all look bad. And it’s sad to think that’s how we talk to each other in public.
The End for this Dog Park Plan?
Remains to be seen, of course, but similarities to previous aborted dog park plans are hard to ignore. Perhaps it’s time to take a page from the online guide, “Start a Dog Park” which stresses the first step is spreading the word, and gaining community support (finding a location doesn’t come in until Step Four).
Just as the neighbors of Forgotten Park are a tight, spunky bunch so too are the dog owners of East Falls who deserve a space to exercise their pets. Many feel set up, only to be shot down yet again. Frustrating, how something as fun as puppies playing elicits such bickering.
While Dog Park Group efforts have included community outreach, this recent backlash highlights a need for more widespread support. Not just the 238 members on the Dog Park Group’s Facebook page, but a true consensus of all East Falls taxpayers, those who own dogs and those who don’t.
In addition to support: transparency. The protocol that Dog Park Group was urged to follow failed to include the neighbors in a timely, respectful fashion. Plans for the dog park have been posted here for community review and comments (below or on Facebook).
Finally, there’s a lot of undeveloped land in East Falls, waiting for the right opportunity.
So many neighborhood tips are exchanged in dog parks, from reviews of products & trainers to recommendations for vets & boarding. Outdoor wear & patio dining, too. Dog parks strengthen community, encourage good dog owner habits, increase licensing/registration rates and also provide a centralized location for authorities to keep an eye on dogs & owners.
Seems everyone from local businesses to organizations like Rescues and Town Watch — even East Falls’ own Development Corporation could benefit from added marketing and revenue streams a well-planned & executed dog park can bring. Dog Park Group’s challenge moving forward (as we see it), is to generate trust and good buzz through dog-friendly events, celebrations, services and education.
You don’t have to have a dog to have an opinion about a dog park in East Falls — Join the discussion and let’s figure this out together!