Dog debate ends: Parks district not to consider ‘shared use’ until further notice

The four-year debate over where Bainbridge’s next off-leash dog park will be built ended in a decisive vote last week.

The board of commissioners for the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District selected Strawberry Hill Park to be the location of a fenced, off-leash dog area.

In the same sitting, the commissioners also voted on tasks aimed to keep a citizen advisory committee focused first and foremost on completing the dog park at Strawberry Hill before looking into possible future plans such as shared-use options for Bainbridge’s existing parks.

“I think that we have to be very specific in the chores that we give this committee because I think there are specific goals,” said Commissioner Lee Cross.

“The one thing I have learned is that we aren’t going to get anywhere unless we identify specific steps and do them in a way that’s phased,” she said.

After two years spent working to establish the former landfill on Vincent Road as an off-leash dog park, the board decided earlier this year that the city’s permitting process was too expensive and time-consuming to continue pursuing it.

Instead, the board brought back four locations for public feedback that had, until recently, been tabled in lieu of the Vincent Road property.

“We got sidetracked, maybe is the best word,” said Commissioner Kirk Robinson during a public hearing earlier this month.

“We have a limited budget to develop a dog park and we were seeing more than 50 percent of that budget going to permitting costs that we hadn’t anticipated.”

With Vincent Road off the table until further notice, the board last week brought focus back on potential sites located at Strawberry Hill Park, the Madison Avenue Tot Lot and the north and south ends of Battle Point Park.

The board chose Strawberry Hill Park in a unanimous vote last week as its first choice out of the four due to its drier terrain, acreage and central location.

Strawberry Hill Park is located off of High School Road near Sands Avenue. It offers approximately 2.4 acres on the western side of the property as a place where pooches can play untethered to an owner.

The other three sites allowed less than two acres for a dog park.

Since the chosen location would be in close proximity to nearby playgrounds and sports areas, the board further agreed that a double-gated exit and entrance would be incorporated into the design of the park.

Dog owners would be able to bring their pets leashed through the first gate before unleashing their pet and allowing them through the second gate.

The double gate would work the same when exiting the dog area.

Despite a public meeting held two weeks ago that gave room for a whole range of opinions, the board decided to focus on developing a fenced-in, off-leash dog park through its completion before entertaining other ideas.

This way, the board agreed, Bainbridge residents can start seeing construction in the next two months rather than wait another four years for a facility.

The seven-member dog park committee will prioritize getting the Strawberry Hill dog park open by developing a design and crafting park rules.

Secondary priorities will be fundraising for other future dog parks, budgeting and considering future locations for off-leash dog areas.

Until directed by the board, the dog committee will not consider any off-leash options that involve shared use, specific off-leash hours, a certification program for off-leash hours or off-leash dogs in existing parks.

The preclusion will not prevent future conversation, but the board agreed that, for now, shared-use options will not be considered.

Robinson explained that considering shared usage would be illogical at this point when many of Bainbridge’s trail visitors violate the district’s current rules for keeping their pets on a leash.

“I want the focus, at least maybe for the first three or four months of this, on getting Strawberry Hill open,” Robinson said.

“I’m not even willing to consider any sort of shared use until I see people following the current rules,” he said.

Commissioner Jay Kinney said he was in favor of picking the conversation back up at a later time.

“Although I tend to agree, I think the chance of having off-leash hours certification is very slim from the research that I’ve done, I think it is valuable for certain members of the public who advocate those ideas to have a place to be heard,” Kinney said.

“I think the committee would be a place to do it … Hopefully we’ll have a community balance by people who want dogs on leashes. It’ll give them a chance to listen to each other, and I think that would be valuable.”

In a public hearing earlier this month, the board heard from both sides of the fence: those supportive of off-leash hours at existing parks and those interested in making the future fenced, off-leash dog park the best it can be for Bainbridge residents.

The fenced park concept was applauded by some at the time.

“We get the name ‘dog breed’ by the fact that dogs are bred for particular purposes,” said Larry Sivitz, a Bainbridge resident for 26 years.

“I think that there has to be a lot of maturity and expertise and understanding that not all dogs are the same,” he said.

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