Community council votes to oppose dog park at Fire House Lane

Monday, December 3, 2018 - 14:48
  • Chugiak High School students Reegan Gifford, Trinity Nusbaum and Heaven Kerschner look at a map of Eagle River held by Eagle River Community Council board member Tim Ebben following a council meeting Thursday, Nov. 8 at the Eagle River Town Center building. The council voted to oppose a dog park at Fire House Lane during the meeting, which the students attended as a school assignment. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

A proposal to build an off-leash dog park on Fire House Lane appears to have gone up in flames.

The Eagle River Community Council voted Thursday, Nov. 8 to oppose the location, which has been under consideration by the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors for use as a small, fenced-in dog park.

“You can describe us as ecstatic,” said Barbara Hendricksen, one of several neighborhood residents who opposed the location.

Hendricksen’s husband, Bob Martin, gave a presentation during the meeting in which he said adding more traffic, pedestrians and pets to an already congested road would lead to “collisions between cars, people and animals.”

The issue was brought before the council at the request of the Parks board, which has been seeking input from Eagle River residents who don’t live in the immediate vicinity of the park. Most who spoke Thursday said they live close by and want nothing to do with a dog park at the small parcel of municipal-owned parkland bordered by Fire House, Seabolt Place, Eagle River Road and the Eagle River Elementary School playground.

In addition to the additional traffic a park would bring to the area, residents said they’re worried about potential noise from barking dogs, the possible loss of trees, and inadequate parking at the park, which is currently home to two tennis courts, a handful of parking spaces and a little more than half an acre of woods cut through with casual trails.

“We seem as a community to want to strip away all the green space,” said Helen Sharratt, who lives on Old Eagle River Road and has been one of the most outspoken voices against the dog park proposal.

Sharratt and council chair Tim Ebben had several prickly exchanges during the meeting, with Sharratt complaining the Parks and Rec board and the community council haven’t listened to neighbors’ concerns about the proposed park — and Ebben saying he was simply trying to get everyone’s input.

“I think you’ve made up your mind, and this is exactly what happened with the skateboard park,” said Sharratt, referencing a 2012 Parks proposal to put a skate park in the same location currently under consideration for a dog park. That idea also went down due to stiff opposition from many of the same neighborhood residents who spoke Thursday.

Sharratt said the fact she lives so close to the park has little to do with her opposition to the location.

“I take offense to the NIMBY reference,” she said during one of the more tense exchanges of the evening, referring to an acronym meaning “not in my backyard” that’s frequently used to describe people opposed to development near their homes.

A Seabolt Lane resident, Zach Seabolt, later walked out of the meeting due to what he and Sharratt said was the chair’s disrespectful attitude. But Ebben said he was only trying to control the meeting and allow for everyone’s voice to be heard.

“I’m trying to get the other side of the coin,” Ebben said.

The issue has been discussed at length since it was first proposed in early 2017. The Parks board contracted with R&M Consultants to help study the idea and facilitate discussions. In addition to studying several locations, the firm held a public meeting in May about the project, where it presented its preliminary findings about which municipal parks would be suitable for an enclosed dog park.

At the October meeting, Parks and Rec director John Rodda said he expects the total cost of the R&M contract to be about $10,000.

R&M determined locations at Fire House Lane and Peters Creek Park would be most suitable, and during the process parks board members indicated a desire to open both at the simultaneously in order to ease demand at both.

But the Fire House site has received stiff opposition from a handful of dedicated area residents. At the October meeting, Parks and Rec board members indicated they’d still like to move forward with the Peters Creek site — which has so far generated littler or no public opposition — but seemed ready to table the Fire House location lacking strong public support.

Several high school students attended Thursday’s meeting as a school assignment, and one said he felt neighbors were being inflexible in their opposition to the Fire House site.

“A lot of people have complained but proposed no solutions,” said Gifford. “…it feels like a very one-sided argument.”

Seabolt Lane resident Joyce Guest acknowledged residents have been vocal about keeping the park from being developed, but said that’s only because they care deeply about their corner of Eagle River.

“We are a tight-knit neighborhood and we are very passionate about keeping it the way it is,” she said.

After about an hour of sometimes tense discussion, board member Jesse James stepped in to make a motion opposing the Fire House Lane location but to encouraging Parks and Rec to consider other locations in Eagle River.

James’s motion was met with applause.

When it came to a vote, only Gifford raised his hand in opposition among the 20 or so people in the crowd. But since he doesn’t live in the council boundaries the teen was ineligible to vote. However, Eagle River resident Brian Fay cast a symbolic vote on behalf of Gifford, making the final tally one shy of unanimous.

Despite the sometimes heated tenor of the meeting, Ebben said he was pleased the group was able to come to a consensus.

“This is what the process is all about,” he said.

Near the end of the meeting, Fay suggested Gifford might be interested in joining the council to fill the vacant student advisory position. The senior said he’d be open to the idea.

“I would 100 percent,” he said.

Gifford and his classmates Heaven Kerschner and Trinity Nusbaum said the meeting proved a lot more interesting than they were expecting.

“I want to know what happens next,” Nusbaum said.

The matter will now return to the Parks and Rec board, which is unlikely to take further action on the Fire House Lane site at this time since in October board members said they wanted to have support from downtown Eagle River residents before moving forward.

The Parks Board will discuss dog parks at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Eagle River Town Center building. The meeting was moved from Nov. 12 to accommodate the Veterans Day holiday.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the street on which Sharratt lives.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com or call 257-4274.

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