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Dog-Park Advocates Face Many Hurdles
Plans for Sites in Arlington and Alexandria Collide With Budget Gaps, Steep Price Tags and Access Issues

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.

But dog-park enthusiasts, who sat in a tight and vocal cluster at last month's board meeting, urged officials to approve the plan and said the expense would be worthwhile.

"This dog park is a very efficient use of community funds," said Gerald Laporte, a dog owner who lives in nearby Lyon Village.

Another group of residents, mainly people who live near the Clarendon site, want the parcel improved and made into a park but said that too much of the site was being devoted to dogs. An artist's rendering seems to indicate that much more than 50 percent of the space would be dedicated to the dog run.

"The space is not proportioned," Paula Ferdinand said. "Give more space to the human beings."

John Carten, first vice president of the Lyon Village Citizens Association, said the "usable lawn area is too small" and asked that the canine area be reduced.

Dog enthusiasts disagreed. "I would have asked for the entire park for the dogs," Sona Virdi said. "That's a fight for another day."

Dog owners are fervently making their case in Alexandria, too. At a City Council meeting last month, residents pleaded with officials to move forward with plans for a dog park at the Potomac Greens subdivision in Potomac Yard, near the Arlington border.

When the townhouse project was approved in 1999, the developer, Potomac Yard Development, agreed to make site improvements in exchange for permission to build there. The plan included a three-acre dog run, which would be one of the largest dog parks in Northern Virginia, on land owned by the developer.

Since then, dog owners in Del Ray and Potomac Yard have been waiting to learn when they would have access to the site, but no specific provisions were made for access. Some nearby property owners say they fear that the city will use its power of eminent domain to seize land for an access point for pet owners. Council members said no such plan is under consideration but did not say when or whether they intend to find a way for dog owners to gain access to the park.

"We're hearing frustration with the process," said council member Ludwig P. Gaines (D). "It really screams out for some resolution."

Pet owners asked city officials how they intend to resolve the issue.

"Commitments were made, promises were made," said Sandy Modell, founder of Del Ray Dogs. She said it might take several years for the city to find a way to gain access to the site and urged officials to designate another nearby parcel of about one acre for a park.

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