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Concerns About the New Off-Leash Areas Raised at June 15 Dog Meeting

Many in town worried about impact of off-leash times on parks and children.

Arlington's Town Meeting voted last month to give dogs some off-leash time, but the Parks and Recreation Commission promises they are far from finalizing any sort of defintive set of regulations.

Last night's meeting in Town Hall addressed many of the concerns residents of Arlington have since Town Meeting voted last month to allow for off-leash hours.

The issue has been a divisive one in Arlington with people on both sides becoming quite heated. A similar measure was narrowly defeated in Town Meeting in 2009, but passed this year 88-74.

The new measure allows dogs to be off-leash at certain times (in the very early morning hours). Dogs must remain on a leash in areas directly contiguous to school property and they must remain 15-feet away from playground equipment. The Parks and Recreation Department can determine if the dogs must stay away from certain parks.

The matter goes before the attorney general this summer and until it is signed, will not be in effect. The town expects an answer by the fall.

According to the Town Meeting decision, dogs will be allowed sans leash from 6 to 9 a.m. (with some variables) in the following parks: Buzzell Field; Cutter Park; Hill's Hill (upper area); Hill's Hill Field; Hurd/Reservoir Fields; Magnolia Park; McClennen Park; Menotomy Rocks Park; Parallel Park; Park Circle; Poets Corner; Reservoir Beach (not in the summer); Robbins Farm Park; Spy Pond Park and Field; Summer Street Field; Thorndike Field; Turkey Hill and Wellington Park.

Last night's meeting, which was called to address concerns around the new by-law by Leslie Mayer, the Chair of Arlington's Parks and Recreation Commission and Joe Connelly, the director of recreation, seemed to center around Robbins Farm Park, which has a playground and also sits directly across the street from Brackett Elementary School.

At Robbins, the rules are complicated with a variety of hours for each season and day, but the one thing many at yesterday's meeting quibbled with was the stipulation that dogs must not go within 15-feet of playground equipment.

"The 15 feet from a playground I find a little bit mind-boggling," said Arlington resident Steve Kale. "I have two little kids. No one has been bitten, but there have been some very uncomfortable experiences. My youngest is terrified of dogs."

Others reiterated similar thoughts and questioned the proximity, though most who supported the new by-law also pointed out that the dogs really do not come close to the playground equipment anyway.

Tom Lynch of Arlington supports the notion of off-leash hours, he said, though he is sympathetic to the other side: "I know all you folks are concerned about your children," he said. "But I am a responsible adult and I need to be treated like one. If you can't control your dog, don't let it off the leash… but you better have control of your children, too."

Both Mayer and Connelly were careful to make sure that it was clear that the measure had already passed and that the time for that kind of debate had passed.

Still many, like Ruth McCallister of Arlington, are concerned. "I have had at least three (dog-related) incidents each week," said McCallister. Last week, her son was playing in the backyard when an off-leash dog jumped their rock wall.

She also worried she would have to keep calling the police on violators. "Police should not have to be called to the dog park. It is going to be carte blanche now."

But off-leash supporters said these worries are unfounded. "A lot of people are afraid that changing this law is going to mean massive amounts of people will be out with their dogs off-leash," but it does not," said Ellen Kravitz who mentioned that many are not going be up early enough or be comfortable taking their dogs off-leash no matter what the laws say.

"I don't think people should panic about this," Kravitz said.

Both Connelly and Mayer referred to the new by-law as a "pilot program" and promised it would have many more tweaks in the coming months as they see what is working and what is not.

"This whole plan is a pilot," Connelly said. "We are not ready to make it permanent. If we realize there is a problem area, we have the power to say 'it's not working.'"

Sue Doctrow July 16, 2010 at 03:56 PM
Great article..I'm glad a reporter was there to cover this meeting, which I also attended. One comment on the "15 ft from playground equipment" provision of the bylaw change that passed at TM. (I also made this point at the meeting). It seems like this requirement has gotten way more attention than it deserves. In most similar bylaws, the rule is simply that dogs are not allowed (off leash or whatever) on playgrounds. When we put together the substitute motion under Article 36, we added the 15 ft as a little buffer to make extra sure that they didn't pee on the equipment, since we were told that is one concern that has been expressed repeatedly in the past. It had nothing to do with any assumption that dogs would be taking a run at children on the playground (the few children that will even be on the playground so early in the a.m.). As another dog owner pointed out at the meeting, if we made this distance much farther then she couldn't even bring her dog to the tiny park she enjoys, even when it's empty, because there is little space beyond the playground. Luckily, the Parks and Rec Commission seems to have understood this "15 ft" provision for what it was..an extra buffer to help keep the playground equipment clean, nothing more. It really illustrates how difficult (impossible, perhaps ;-) it can be to anticipate objections that will be raised to a proposal, esp on an issue as contentious as this one continues to be in our town.

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