Events / Info / News

September 18th Community Meeting Review

Thank you to everyone who braved the rain to attend our fourth community meeting last week.  I also want to thank our panel of speakers from the Dog Friendly Area Committee, Laura Bolesta, Grace Gaughan, James McDonough, Peter Schlossman and Lynn Sheck.  They did a fantastic job explaining what we’ve been up to.  For those of you who missed it, let me fill you in. 
As most of you know by now, Chicago Park District has comprehensive guidelines for developing a dog friendly area that outline particular steps that must be taken.  First among them is picking a site.  Working with Horner Park’s supervisor, an underutilized 1.8 acre section at south end of the park was originally identified by Horner Park Advisory Council as a good spot.  With the funding and expansion of the Riverfront Project to the south side of the park, the proposed site is now limited to approximately an acre on the southwest side of the originally delineated area.  What we like about the site is that a dog park could be unobtrusively nestled within the trees so as to be less intrusive to the aesthetic of the park and other users as a whole.  It would also provide abundant shade, which is recommended by the American Kennel Society and the Humane Society as a necessary part to a healthy dog park.  The running path would not be disturbed and the line of trees along the concrete paths will provide a nice buffer zone.  At the meeting, it was suggested that we look into converting one of the lessor-used baseball diamond as an alternative proposed site instead. The argument was that the baseball association had 12 diamonds that are only used for a short season. If we converted one for a dog park we would not lose a picnic site and it is closer to the area that owners already run their dogs. We agreed to discuss this idea with the park supervisor.
The next step involves petitioning the neighborhood and conducting usage surveys.  Our panel members explained in detail what we have done to date and example surveys and petitions were circulated.  Volunteers from the Dog Friendly Area Committee canvassed the neighborhoods within a 5-block radius of the park in every direction over the past year as required by the guidelines. Although the new guidelines require only 50 signatures, we have collected close to 700.  The petition allows people to write either “Yes” or “No” in answer to the question of whether they support a dog park. Only 3% answered “No.”   We will no longer be canvassing the neighborhood, but if you would like to sign, the petition will be available at the monthly Horner Park Advisory Council meetings on the first Monday of each month. Alternatively, please email dfac@hornerpark.org and we will arrange a time to meet you.  The petition was available to sign at the meeting. And the chocolates were free whether or not you choose to sign!  
With respect to the usage surveys, we have completed over 300 surveys since October 2012.  Only 8 are required by the new guidelines.  The point of the surveys is to take a snapshot of how the proposed area is being used at different times of day, different days of the week and different times of the year over the course of time so one can get an idea of how the area is currently being used.  Our surveys show that the most consistent use of the area is by runners on the trail.  There is one permitted picnic site in the proposed dog park area that would be lost if the dog park is built.  According to the park supervisor, that site is rarely rented and our surveys reflect that as well, though on popular summer weekends we did sometimes record people picnicking there.  It was also noted that other picnic areas will be lost due to the Riverfront Project.  In response to that, the park supervisor has confirmed the addition of one permitted picnic area and is considering the possibility of adding another on the west side of the park along California.  Apparently, those are already the most rented spots. A map showing these areas was distributed.  It was suggested that since the nature of the park will change after the construction of the Riverfront Project, the surveys are no longer relevant and should be conducted anew after construction.  The response to that was to take a look at the displaced users.  We could agree that the east side of the park is used primarily by two groups: (1) players warming up for games and their families picnicking, and (2) dogs and runners. Logically, group 1 is not going to relocate to the southwest corner of the park as it is an impractical distance from the baseball fields they are playing on/watching.  Group 2 would be accommodated by the dog park. That being said, we agreed to conduct some further surveys once the Riverfront Project is underway, to the extent it predates the construction of the dog park.
Our media chair then reviewed how we’ve tried to engage the community and keep everyone up-to-date on the process.  Information can be found on the Horner Park Advisory Council website, on our blog and on Facebook. We have posters up in Horner, Welles, McFetridge and Revere Parks. We have flyers up in businesses all over the surrounding neighborhoods that we replace every couple of months. We ask the Alderman’s offices, the Horner Park Advisory Council and other neighborhood groups to share information when events are scheduled. We even hand out business cards with information about the dog park initiative to people we see on the streets. And, of course, we rely on word of mouth.
With the petition and usage phases complete, we now move on to fundraising. Chicago Park District estimates that the cost of building a dog park is $150,000.  Excluding the beach, almost all of Chicago Park District dog parks are less than .3 acres. As our proposed park is considerably bigger, we anticipate that the costs will also be correspondingly higher.   That money has to be privately raised.  There is no existing pot of money from which we are drawing that could be dedicated to another purpose.  We will look to individual donors big and small, corporate donors, grants and government entities.  Feel free to donate now if you like, right here on this website! Horner Park Advisory Council, a 501(c)(3) organization, will be accepting the monies for the dog friendly area so your contribution will be tax deductible to the fullest of law.  
We do not know how long the fundraising phase will take: It could take months; it could take years.  In any event, once we can show $150,000 in committed funds we can submit our proposal to the Park District for their approval. Included in that package would be our conceptual idea for the park. Our vision is a 1-acre enclave nestled into the southwest corner of the park, enclosed by an attractive black fence.  Ideally, we would have a grass surface, but as grass is not permitted it would be a mix of surfaces with a large artificial turf “fetch” area, retaining walls filled with woodchips around the trees and hardscape at the multiple entrances. Photos were passed around showing some of these design elements from another dog park. There would be both human and dog water fountains and possibly benches and a water feature for the dogs. There was discussion about whether there would be a small dog area as well. That is certainly up for consideration based on what people prefer and could as be added later if it was not in the original build.  While we don’t have a specific design, we hope understanding the basic design elements will allow you to better imagine the space.  The consensus expressed a preference for natural elements.  Upon their approval, the Park District will prepare a design and present it to the community for “review and agreement.”  So the community will have a continuing opportunity to comment on the specific design plans moving forward.  The current guidelines create a sort of “chicken and egg” dilemma, as you need to have the committed funds before the park district will sit down and discuss design with you, but you need to have a design to get the support.  We will ask the Park District again if we might be able to get some design process going to help people better envision what it would look like.  Everyone was in agreement that if we are going to build a dog park, it needed to be large enough to accommodate the way current dog users want to play and it needs to be attractive. It was asked that if we couldn’t raise sufficient funds would we end up building a small concrete pad.  The answer is no. We are not on a timeline so we would continue to try to raise additional funds.
It was suggested that now that we have more of a connection with Chicago Park District due to our engagement with the Riverfront Project, we work for an exception that would allow for a grass surface to create more continuity with the restoration project. We can certainly strive to get the Park District to reconsider their policy, but that is not something we can promise at this stage.  The idea was presented that there is incongruity in working so hard to recreate a natural environment on the east and southeast sides and then stick an artificial turf park next door.  Again, grass not currently being an option we thought turf more palatable then concrete. And it’s not your grandma’s turf. It’s come a long way.  From a distance you will not be able to tell that it’s artificial turf.  A close-up photo of the turf used at another dog park was circulated.  It can be made from recycled materials – literally saving thousands of pounds of material that would otherwise end up in landfill – and can be recycled again at the end of it’s life. It can be made with organic soy backing and it saves the environment from additional air and water pollution that result from treating regular grass – seeding, weeding, applying pesticides and mowing.  Did you know that using a regular gas mower for an hour releases the same amount of hydrocarbons as driving fro 200 miles? For more information about turf, please go to http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/faq/#109.  We also consulted with a certified arborist who confirmed that the use of turf, which is permeable, would not adversely affect the trees.  He did, however, suggest that a nice mulch bed would be the best way to go and would make them even happier than they are now.  The arborist’s concern was that we exercise caution during construction so as not to disturb the root beds should we need to dig below 12-18 inches, which we may not have to do.  These are the same issues that will be faced by the Riverfront Project and I’m sure that we can learn from them. 
It was suggested that we wait until the Riverfront Project is finished and then reconsider the dog park. Our preference would be not to do that for several reasons.  One, the Riverfront Project will take 1-5 years to complete. During that time and possibly for longer, a primary section of the park that is typically used by dogs may be off-limit to dogs, or to the extent that it is not off-limit, dogs will have unprotected access to the river which may make letting ones dogs run off-leash in that area less desirable.  Even if the dog owners were still comfortable with that, it might be less desirable for environmentalists who want to protect the new plantings.  Giving the dogs an alternative place to play seems even more imperative given the upcoming changes. Two, it also makes sense to build sooner rather than later to limit the overall disruption to the park during construction.  The area adjacent to the proposed dog park will be a staging area for the Riverfront Project and, as such, presumably, it will be finished last. It would make sense to share that staging space and construct the dog park simultaneously if possible. If we wait until everything is done, more care will have to be taken not to harm the newly restored space during construction of the adjacent area.  Of course, a few things are true.  We may not have the money in time to make concurrent construction possible. The initial construction phase of the Riverfront Project may be long finished before we raise the funds.  An interesting middle-ground idea was proposed from the audience, which was to ask the park to temporarily fence in the proposed DFA area while other construction fences were going up on the Riverfront Project.  This would be a pilot program of sorts during which we could gage both usage and the viability of grass. This is something that we will definitely explore with the Park District.
We addressed a concern about the whether there would be a fee to use the dog park.  Currently, the City of Chicago requires that any dog wanting to use any dog park, including the beach, to have a dog park permit.  This tag costs $5, is good for a year, and can be obtained from participating veterinarians.  The purpose of obtaining the tag is to make sure that all of the dogs using the dog areas are healthy. In order to obtain the tag you have to show that your dog has been vaccinated for rabies and that it is licensed with the City; both of which are already required by law. The city tag can be obtained online for $5.   There are no additional fees collected to use Chicago dog parks at this time.  It is true that other municipalities in neighboring cities do collect an annual fee.  This is done to help offset costs for the park and to control the number of users. Those park districts also charge for their outdoor tennis courts and their swimming pools; facilities Chicago does not charge for.  While neither the Dog Friendly Area Committee nor the current Park Supervisor have any plans to assess such a fee, we cannot know and have no control over what Chicago Park District may decide to do in the future. However, we have no knowledge of any such plans. That being said, there are potential upsides to charging a nominal annual fee and if that is something that the community wanted to explore we would, of course, be willing to consider it. But again, that might not even be something the Park District would allow, as their rules for the dog parks are consistent across the city. Those rules, by the way, also limit the number of dogs that can be brought by any one person at a time to 3.  They also require patrons to watch their dogs and to clean up after them.  And in response to prior concerns about maintenance that were not raised last night, let me just add that the guidelines require the Dog Friendly Area Committee to sign a document agreeing to maintain the park. We also met with other Dog Friendly Area committee members for other dog parks around the city and they said that people are generally good about maintenance and policing each other, particularly the regulars. My favorite comment to come from those conversations was, in reference to the Lakeshore East dog park, “It’s the social epicenter of the neighborhood!”  We love the idea that a dog park creates a community that crosses social and economic boundaries, which will strengthen our neighborhood and our city.  
I want to end by thanking everyone for their helpful input and creative ideas. This project only gets better by hearing from you.  We have endeavored to engage the community from step one when we held our first community meeting in October 2012 and we will continue to do so.  The reason that no community meetings were held between January and August was because we learned in late January that our proposed area was captured in the Riverfront Project redesign.  It was not confirmed until the end of July that a section of land would be retained where a dog park could possibly go, if we follow the necessary steps to completion and ultimately receive Park District approval.  A new Alderman for the 33rd Ward was also appointed at the end of July. Welcome Deb Mell and thank you for attending our meeting last week!  If we missed something in this article that was discussed at the meeting or you were not at the meeting and have a question or an idea, please leave a comment and we will respond as soon as we can.  

The Dog Friendly Area Committee will continue to present updates at the monthly Horner Park Advisory Council Meetings, on the first Monday of every month as well, if you want to stay caught up. 

Additionally, the HPWNA (Horner Park West Neighborhood Association) holds monthly board meetings on the second Wednesday of every month at 7:30 PM at the Horner Park Fieldhouse. Board meetings are open to all.

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