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Commission Defers Vote on Proposed Dog Park

Ten local residents spoke for the park, and six against, during a public hearing Thursday.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred a vote Thursday on a proposed interim off-leash dog park at Westgrove Park following a three-hour public hearing.

The commission plans to vote on the park at its May 31 meeting. Sixteen local residents, the majority in favor of the park, spoke during the public hearing Thursday night on the future of the Mount Vernon District's Westgrove Park, the the 22-acre site of a former sewage pumping station located east of Fort Hunt Road near Belle View Elementary School.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has proposed allowing an off-leash dog park on 1.75 acres of the site for the next two years, while a park master plan is formulated. The area would be fenced. A local group advocating for the dog park, the Pumphouse Association for Canine Kindness, or PACK, would maintain the site through an agreement with the park authority.

Local residents had taken to letting dogs run off-leash, in violation of county ordinance, on the grassy, mowed area in recent years, but animal control officers responded by issuing citations.

Environmental Concerns Expressed

The park is located directly to the east of Mount Vernon District Park and west of Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. Environmental concerns dominated the comments of the six people who spoke against the park.

Martin Tillett, representing Friends of Quander Brook and Belle Haven Watersheds, told the commission the proposed park would impact the entire Dyke Marsh watershed. A stream that goes through the park has the highest quality of water in the area, he said, and he criticized the park authority for giving consideration to the requests of dog owners who admittedly already used the park illegally to run dogs off-leash over people who used the park legally.

“Placing an interim off-leash dog park smack in the middle of these connecting habitats disregards the fragile ecology and the potential for restoration of this site,” Tillett said.

Ned Stone, vice president of Friends of Dyke Marsh, said the marsh was one of the last habitats in the area to provide a home for many species. “We are not opposed to dogs or dog parks ... but we want to question the use of this parcel of land for this purpose,” he said.

Also, one man who lives near the park said he and his neighbors had concerns about security in the park, describing the site as in a secluded, sunken area surrounded by trees that could attract partying teenagers or criminals.

Dog Parks are for People, Too

Ten local residents spoke in favor of the proposed park. Randall Torgerson, board member and immediate past president of Westgrove Citizens Association, said the association strongly supports the creation of a dog park, as does the nearby Villamay Community Association. Torgerson called the proposed park “progressive.”

“My son, who just moved to the Hollin Hall community, has a Portuguese water dog, who, like Bo in the White House, is very energetic and needs a place to romp off-leash,” he said. “The difference is that we are providing less than two acres for this activity, whereas Bo has up to 20.”

Lisa Stella, a member of PACK and the Westgrove community, said dog parks are for people, too. “It’s a wonderful way to meet others, especially for us whose children are of a four-legged variety.”

Steven Nixon, president of PACK, told the commission how his dog, Jasper, needs large spaces for exercise. “Our community is desperate for dog parks, and so is the county,” Nixon said. “Off-leash dog parks are one of the highest unmet needs in this area.”

Betsy Martin, speaking on behalf of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations, told the commission the MVCCA voted to recommend the park authority create the dog park under several conditions, which have been largely met.

Written Comments Still Accepted

Chris Caperton, with the county department of planning and zoning, said the foundations of the pumping station remained buried underneath the site, which would be expensive to remove but would also inhibit large trees from growing. Caperton also said man-made barriers, including Fort Hunt Road and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, already disrupted the area’s natural connectivity.

Sandy Stallman, manager of the park planning branch of the Fairfax County Park Authority, told commissioners master planning for the site began in 2004 but fell apart due to a lack of community consensus. Stallman said trash receptacles for animal waste would be installed at the park and that natural resource specialists with the park authority have no concerns about impacts on the surrounding vegetation or wildlife as long as the dogs stay within the fenced-in area.

The commission is accepting written comments on the proposal through May 31.

Ray May 19, 2012 at 01:11 AM
This seems like a no-brainer. It is an area not threatening anyone, owners pick up after dogs, a green space is used for recreation and the enjoyment of dog owners and dogs and others--what's not to like? An ENVIRONMENTAL issue? Really? We need to stop opposing anything that might remotely offend us and start working together on small and inconsequential issues like this. How can we expect the reds and the blues in the Congress to decide upon major issues when local residents cannot find a way to work together to resolve minor issues. For God's sake let's not debate things like this any further. It's like being nibbled to death by ducks. Get the Fx County dog police to doing what they should be doing in the first place by policing run amok pit bulls and off the backs of innocuous violations of off leash dogs akin to "speeding" by going 5 mph over the limits. This is too simple to spend any more time on. We have bigger fish to fry like reducing unwise Medicare payouts and SS to those of us who do not really need it.
Wildermann May 20, 2012 at 06:27 PM
PACK asserts that Westgrove will be kept in better condition than before verifying that the off leash dog squatters using the site for years are hardly inculpable for their lack of environmental concern. Those in violation of the off leash ordinances cast themselves as victims of persecution. Other people used this area for purposes other than a place to run their dogs. Hiking, bird watching and nature study was within the realm of permitted use but the Park Authority chooses to favor the group that demands an interim use to solve their dilemma of getting cited for violating the rules. Freezing out people that used the site while following the rules hardly seems like working together. The real lesson here is that Fairfax County officials are intimidated by a vocal group to the point that they will cave and reward bad behavior. I am not at all surprised given the fact that developers in Fairfax County have long engaged in a practice of asking for forgiveness rather than having sought permission for environmental infractions. The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors are too often lax when such circumstances occur. "Working together" is a misleading perception of Democracy. PACK did not seek out the environmental interests and initiate a dialogue rather they sought an interim use subverting the Master Planning process where residents find ways to resolve issues. This is and remains a case of 5 wolves and 3 sheep deciding what is for dinner.
James Carmalt May 21, 2012 at 10:15 PM
I have no empathy for Mr. Tillett's cause. In fact the first people spoken to were the enviromental groups in Dyke Marsh and surrounding areas to gain there insight and garner their support. They wanted nothing to do with it! In fact the mish-mash of enviromental jibberish presented by Tillett and crew at the planning commission meeting defies every speck of common sense displayed by those that attended. To suggest that birds wouldn't fly over the area because there are dogs running in the field defied laughability. Suggesting we would be depriving our grandchildren the right to enjoy nature by letting dogs run in a safe enviroment like Westgrove Park is ridiculous. It's just wrong! According to Tillett and his enviro-freaks it would be better if your grandchildren were led off in handcuffs for letting their dogs run in this perfect enviroment for dogs. It is undertstandable that these folks are trying to deny good, honest, citizens with dogs, their right to run dogs at Westgrove Park, because a good dog wouldn't have anything to do with people so far to the left they have fallen off the planet. As for squatting, we were given permission by our Supervisor to run our dogs at Westgrove with his blessing. As for being a vocal group, try vocal majority. We have a petition with over 500 signatures, we have the blessing of the FCPA that has worked with THE CITIZENS to find a real solution, and we will now all sit down and begin with a fresh dinner of RED Herrings.
Wildermann May 24, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Mr. Carmalt, For your review. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/6/611.long Denying empirical findings is consistent with demands for an interim use in order t avoid scientifically derived arguments that would be presented in a master planning process. Just like the earlier denial that a designated stream existed on the Westgrove property from another PACK supporter. If this group really wanted to find a real solution and to be fair then they would have asked that the Master Planning process be re-initiated and win their case on the merits they say are real. A fair hearing on the merits of all arguments for a variety of uses is what the environmental groups are requesting. PACK wants none of that, rather, they have used the "vocal majority" to bully the Supervisor facing a re-election and the Park Authority that originally did not want to consider an interim use without master planning. History is replete with vocal majorities running amok and squelching fair hearings on issues. Interesting exhibit in the lobby outside of the Planning Commission hearing room where the 1861 Fairfax County vocal majority voted to secede from the USA.

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