Eagle River residents continue to debate dog park proposal
Eagle River-Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors members continue to dig into the idea of bringing off-leash dog parks to the area.
The board has been talking about the proposal since February 2017, and on Monday spent much of its meeting trying to decide how to proceed. But while there has been much debate, the issue is still unsettled — and board members will soon need to make a decision.
“The question is, do we maintain the course?” said Parks and Rec director John Rodda druing the Monday, Aug. 13 board meeting.
Rodda explained to the board that if it wants to continue gathering more information from the public and soliciting comments from interested parties, it will cost more to hire consultants to sort through and compile the data.
“If we want to continue down this path, it is going to cost us,” Rodda said.
The board has already commissioned criteria and site summaries for several proposed park locations and hosted a public open house to discuss the findings by R&M Consultants. Earlier this year, the board decided to settle on a plan that would turn two municipal parks — at Peters Creek Park and Fire House Lane — into off-leash dog parks.
But while there have been no objections to the Peters Creek park, people living near Fire House Lane have been vocal in their opposition to changes at Fire House Park, which is currently home to two tennis courts, six parkings spaces and a roughly half-acre wooded space where most of the dog park would be located.
On Monday, Bob Martin of Old Eagle River Road told the board he thinks a dog park at nearby Fire House Lane will add an additional safety hazard to an already dangerous street.
“I travel down Fire House Lane at least twice a day, and it is that experience that convinces me that moving forward on adding an off-leash dog park potentially to Fire House Park will lead to some dog, parent or toddler becoming severely injured or worse,” said Martin, a commercial real estate developer who has lived in Eagle River for 36 years.
Martin said municipal figures show nearly 1,400 cars use Fire House on a given day day, with state numbers putting traffic flow on Eagle River Road at 7,000 cars per day. Between 2006 and 2016, Martin said 26 accidents were reported at that intersection or in the immediate area.
Martin has been researching the issue for several months, and said he recently visited all seven off-leash dog parks in the municipality. One thing he noticed, he said, is people tend to park wherever is convenient. Martin thinks a dog park at Fire House Park will lead to people parking in the street due to limited parking facilities.
“If it’s not enforced, people did not pay attention to no parking signs,” he said.
Following Martin’s remarks, several people in the audience spoke up to voice their opposition. Joyce Guest — who lives on Sebolt Place across the street from the park — said traffic on Fire House Lane has increased dramatically in recent years.
“It’s gotten to be a very busy street,” she said.
Board member Pete Panarese said he thinks a dog park would be a beneficial use of the parkland, which is currently cut through with a couple informal trails.
“What would we do with this piece of property?” Panarese asked. “We can’t just leave it as it is.”
That drew a rebuke from the audience, which included about a dozen members of the public.
“Why not?” they asked in unison.
Guest said tennis players and local residents like the buffer zone between the park and the busy Eagle River Road, and Zach Seabolt said road noise is already an issue.
“I can’t believe how much noise we picked up when they put that parking lot in,” he said.
Parks board members eventually decided more study is needed. That’s when Rodda cautioned them that continued study could likely cost more money — which gave board members pause.
“It’s going to be expensive to go through the public process,” said board member Lexi Hill.
Tim Ebben, who owns a pet grooming business in Eagle River, told the board he thinks there’s a silent group of people that would like to see a small dog park in the downtown “core” area of Eagle River.
“There is a voice that’s not being heard right now,” he told the board.
Board member Josh Ream agreed, and said he’s hopeful the board can come to some kind of resolution.
“I don’t want to lose sight of having a dog park,” he said.
In the end, the board decided to move forward with an informal survey of the public. Rather than using the consultants to compile more public comments, Fay volunteered to put together a survey to bring back for further dog park discussion at the board’s next meeting, which will be held Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Eagle River Town Center building on Business Boulevard.
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