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.