Dog-Park Advocates Face Many Hurdles

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Northern Virginia's four-legged residents and the people they own are searching for more space to mix and mingle, but their efforts might be stymied by tight budgets, space constraints and the high cost of providing the amenities that dog parks need.

Government officials are deliberating over plans for two new dog parks, one in Arlington County and one in Alexandria, to help meet the burgeoning need for outdoor romping sites for the area's canine residents. There are at least eight official and unofficial dog parks in Arlington and nine in Alexandria.

"There's strong community interest in support of them," said Stephen Temmermand, division chief of the Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.

After years of debate, Arlington has approved a master plan to transform a parcel of land at North Herndon and 13th streets in Clarendon into an urban park. The former construction site, strewn with gravel and wood chips, would include a fountain, demonstration garden, benches, picnic tables, shrubs and canopy trees. Many people already bring their dogs to the site, but under the proposal, about 50 percent of the land would be designated a "community canine area."

The canine area would be angled across the middle of the site to keep the dogs farther away from nearby homes and help reduce the noise from barking dogs.

"We'll have an award-winning national park," said County Board member Jay Fisette (D), a dog owner and dog-park advocate.

The sticking point is likely to be the park's cost, which is projected to be as much as $1.7 million, a steep price at a time when the region's housing slump has left many jurisdictions facing budget gaps.

County officials said the park's cost is high because the site needs a considerable amount of infrastructure development to be made into a usable park. The land will need to be graded, a layer of topsoil laid down, roads and sidewalks built, and a water supply and storm water drainage system put in. A lot of landscaping also will be required.

J. Walter Tejada (D), who became board chairman this month, questioned the project's cost at a public hearing last month.

"It's a significant amount," he said, noting that some residents are likely to criticize the cost. The project has not yet been funded.

The park will have to compete with other capital spending proposals the board might consider, such as a plan for a North Tract recreational area, during the upcoming budget process.

Fisette agreed that the price is steep. "My jaw dropped when I heard the amount," he said. He suggested doing the work in phases to spread out the costs.

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