District looking at dog park feasibility
by BRIAN NADIG
The planning division of the Chicago Park District is looking whether the proposed dog park at the Austin-Foster Playlot Park, 6020 W. Foster Ave., is feasible.
The total cost of the project is expected to be between $150,000 and $250,000, and the recently formed Austin-Foster Dog Advisory Committee held a March 20 community meeting to get feedback on the proposal. The dog park was one of the winning infrastructure projects in last year’s 45th Ward participatory budget vote. It was the first of three community meetings planned for the project.
"This is a huge opportunity for us. Our ward doesn’t have one," advisory committee president Robert Simpson said. The closest dog areas are in the 41st Ward at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave., and the 38th Ward at Portage Park, 4100 N. Long Ave.
Under the proposal, the park district would receive $100,000 of the 45th Ward’s discretionary funds for the creation of the park. Each of the city’s 50 wards is allocated $1.32 million in annual funds for infrastructure improvements, including side-street resurfacing.
Park district area manager Deborah Maddox told the committee that the planning division will examine "clearance and safety" issues, including whether the location of the dog area would be too close to the park’s sports fields. She added that the park also is examined for plants and other vegetation that might have to be removed due to toxicity concerns for the dogs.
The dog area would be installed at the northeast corner of the park so that it would not impact the existing ball fields and would be located away from the playground, which is located along the south end of the park, Simpson said. If any trees have to be removed, replacement ones would be planted elsewhere in the park, he said,
"We aren’t trying to take away anything from the park," Simpson said. He added that the project is intended to enhance the park so that more people would use it.
One resident said that flag football is played where the dog area would be located, while another resident had called for the funds to be used to fix potholes.
"To me it’s not that big of a park, (and) we’re taking it away from the kids," the resident said.
Simpson said the committee will be conducting site surveys and reporting to the park district how each section of the park is currently being used.
Also under consideration are sections in the dog area for small and large dogs and to have security cameras installed. The cameras would help identify owners who "run off" after a biting incident, Simpson said.
Concerns about barking dogs also were raised at the meeting. Several years ago the dog area at Norwood Park was relocated to a different section of the park due to noise complaints.
Dog areas are typically open until the park’s closing time, which is at 11 p.m. at Austin-Foster, unless the advisory committee makes arrangements to have it locked earlier, Maddox said. Under park district rules, maintenance of the dog area would be the responsibility of the committee.
Simpson said that the application process for a dog area is a difficult and lengthy one because the park district wants "to make sure (committee members) are dedicated" and will follow through on all of the committee’s obligations.
If plans for the dog area at Austin-Foster were to fall through, the $100,000 in discretionary funds could be reallocated to another park, said Alderman John Arena’s communications director Leslie Perkins. Some residents have suggested Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave., as an alternate location, and a new application would have to be filed with the park district if the proposed location were to change.
The advisory committee is expected to start fund-raising later this year to help pay for the proposed Austin-Foster dog area.