by Anne Thiel
One year ago an initiative started in the Takoma DC neighborhood to establish a dog park in the vicinity of the Takoma Recreation Center in the northern part of Ward 4. A determined group of citizens from the Takoma DC/Brightwood/Manor Park area organized themselves as the "Northern Ward 4 Dog Park Group" and led the efforts to get the Department of Parks and Recreations to approve a park. They faced strong opposition from both a group of residents as well as the Friends of Takoma Recreation Center, a local non-profit organization, along with support from a large group of residents who wanted the dog park.
The journey has been fraught with claims of gentrification, fear over dog refuse and the changes implied in the neighborhood, along with the call by homeowners who wanted a nearby place to exercise and play with their pets.
The group supporting the dog park continued their efforts, following the requirements set forth by DPR. The group gathered petition signatures, submitted a complete application with more signatures than was required (anecdotally, with more than any other dog park application in DC), attended ANC meetings (where they obtained a letter in support of the dog park), held community meetings, and repeatedly tried to engage those opposed to their efforts.
Throughout all of this, moments of hope and optimism equaled moments of doubt and despair. There were myriad voices of support, but also some very loud expressions of disagreement. In an email thread on the TakomaDC Yahoo Group, neighbors complained that they felt steamrolled by the dog park group’s approach and that the group did not engage local residents sufficiently and early enough. At ANC meetings, neighbors expressed concerns that a dog park would be noisy and smelly and that the necessary resources – in form of space and funds – should be used to meet the needs of children instead. The group supporting the dog park felt that allocating funds for a place for residents to socialize and play with their pets would be a major benefit to the community.
After submitting the dog park application, the group waited for DPR to post notice in the DC register and hold a 30-day comment period. The regular comment period was then extended by an additional 30 days upon request of the Friends of Takoma Recreation Center. After the comment period ended, the group then waited for DPR to assemble a Dog Park Application Review Committee (DPARC) and coordinate a meeting of the same – all of which took place with a delay that frustrated the supporters.
At the DPARC meeting, the vote on the application had five committee members voting in support of the proposed site and three voting in opposition. The DPARC’s recommendation was then sent to DPR Director Keith Anderson so that he could make a final decision on the application.
Late in the afternoon of Friday, October 14th finally brought the answer from DPR: denied. DPR Director Keith Anderson sent a letter denying the dog park application for the following reasons:
- [The proposed site is in] too-close proximity to nearby residences' front porches
- [The proposed site’s] failure to streamline with the existing use of the open space where adults and children play, walk, and rest
- [The proposed site’s] location between two heavily used athletic fields.
One particular reason for the group’s disappointment was that they felt they had worked hard with DPR to identify the proposed site and meet all the community and DPR requirements.
View of the Takoma park where the proposed dog park would go...
“DPR’s Capital Projects team works collaboratively with the sponsoring dog park group to help identify potential locations that meet the minimum guidelines," wrote Gwendolyn Crump, Director of Communications at DPR (formerly the MPD communications director), in a recent email to Petworth News. "Identification of a potential location does not imply that the location will be ultimately approved.” (Ms. Crump also denied Petworth News the ability to speak directly with the DPR director.)
The denial letter from DPR indicated that the rejection of the proposed site did not “foreclose the possibility of a dog park being located in an alternative site within the community.”
Michael Cohen, the dog park group’s leader, commented, “The rejection letter took everyone by surprise. We had worked so hard and for so long on the dog park process and were not expecting a complete denial from DPR.”
With the rejection, the group refused to end their efforts. They took to social media to make their voices heard. New twitter accounts such as @Ward4Paws and @takomadogpark popped up, openly voicing their discontent with the DPR decision, along with an article on Popville. The Northern Ward 4 Dog Park Group also picked up the phone to inquire with DPR as to what the next possible steps forward could look like.
Then on Friday, October 21st, just one week after the group had reached one of the lowest moments of their campaign, Michael had a phone call with DPR Director Anderson. Anderson told Michael he was confident DPR would be able to identify an alternative site for a dog park at the Takoma Recreation Center. The Director also said he recognized a need for such an amenity in the northern part of Ward 4. Anderson also expressed that he is committed to expediting the process as much as possible since the group had already dedicated so much time to the dog park application process.
The group will still have to raise funds for the park as the current budget has no money earmarked for a new dog park. But Northern Ward 4 Dog Park Group plans to hold fundraisers and work with their Councilmember and At-Large Councilmembers to address the funding of the dog park.
According to the dog park group, Councilmember Brandon Todd has only been observing the process from the sidelines, and has not gotten involved. In an email, Councilmember Brandon Todd wrote, “Throughout this entire process… it was of the utmost importance to me that I not exert undue influence on the decision-making process of DPR. I have been clear with constituents that I would allow DPR to follow its process unimpeded.” The group is hoping that Todd and the At-Large Councilmembers now get more actively involved in the needs of the constituents.
“The Northern Ward 4 Dog Park appreciates Director Anderson’s outreach and we look forward to working together with him and his staff at DPR to find a suitable location for a dog park at the Takoma Recreation Center,” Michael said. “We’re confident that we’ll be able to find a solution that works for the dog park group, DPR, and the community as a whole.”
Time will tell if both groups get the compromise they’re looking for. If you support, or are against a dog park in Takoma, make sure you get involved and have your voice heard.
This is the first article by new Petworth News contributing writer Anne Thiel. Learn more about Anne and the new contributing writers on the About Petworth News page.