Friday, September 14, 2007

Temporary Dog Park OPEN!

As newfs noted in the comments for the last post, the Southeast Area Park off-leash area is OPEN for business!

We just got back from a short visit and there were already three other dogs using the park. It is a pretty simple facility, but very fun. The off-leash area is about an acre of grass with trees and bushes fenced off with chain link. There is a secure double-entry to keep your canine pals from running off and a clean-up bag box in case you forget to bring your own bags.

Charlie and Sadie's review is two paws up. All the trees and bushes provided ample opportunities for Charlie (hound mix) to sniff, explore, and mark, and the length of the area is more then enough for Sadie (pharaoh hound mix) to run at full speed. Even with a Chuck-It I could barely throw a ball the entire length of the park. They are looking forward to playing with other dogs as more and more people start coming.

So if you haven't done so yet, go get a permit and start enjoying legal off-leash play in Ann Arbor. And please follow the posted rules and etiquette, it is important for this to get off to a good start so the city realizes how much dog parks have to offer our community.

Permits Available

The City of Ann Arbor is now selling permits for the dog parks!

Details here

and here (PDF)

Just take your vaccine, registration and spay/neuter records to the City Clerk.

Not sure yet if this means Southeast Area Park is open, but I'll find out soon and get back to you.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Dog Park News Roundup

I've missed a lot of news in the past couple of weeks. Here's a quick digest of all the major dog park goings on.

- On Aug 22, the Ann Arbor News ran an article about the current dog park situation. They are projecting the temporary site at Southeast Area Park to be open in the third week of September. Construction is already complete. It would always be nice to see things happen sooner, but it looks like we are very close to the first opening of a legal off-leash area in Ann Arbor! Check the article for other details and timelines on the other projects.

- A few days later Christina, who many of us know well, wrote a letter to the editor in response to that article asking why we can't start using the off-leash area since the fence is up.

- At this week's City Council meeting (Tuesday because of the holiday), Council will be voting on a contract to begin construction at the large Swift Run site. There are some details in the memo attached to the resolution (PDF), the most interesting of which is that the projected completion date is November of this year. (Let's Hope!) -


- Finally, the city and Canine Social Club are holding an open dog swim at Buhr Pool on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons (PDF flyer). Take your friends, pay a small fee, and enjoy dog day. We have been to similar events in other cities and they are LOTS of fun whether your dog swims or not. I'm very sorry that I won't be able to go this year.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

CSC Volunteer Meeting for the NEW DOG PARK

Late Edit: I forgot to list the location of the meeting. It will be at the Pavillion at Southeast Area Park - Southwest corner of Platt and Ellsworth. Thanks to kayla&mom for pointing out my omission.

I got an e-mail from the Canine Social Club this week inviting interested people to a meeting on Aug 23 to discuss volunteer monitors for Southeast Area and Olson Park dog runs when the open. I think the plan is to have people posted during busy times to help people figure out the rules and etiquette and to watch for potential problems. It will probably involve telling people where they can buy a permit and making sure that people pick up after their dogs.

Here is the full text of the e-mail:

www.CANINESOCIALCLUB.NET (See photos of Southeast Park -Temporary Swift Run Site)

Yes, it’s really happening! Dog parks are opening in Ann Arbor!!

As Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County open their first off-leash dog parks, the Canine Social Club has been asked to help ensure that the parks are successful. Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation officials are calling a meeting to coordinate volunteers to help monitor usage of the both the Southeast and Olsen dog parks during their initial phases. The meeting will be held Thursday August 23rd, 5:30 – 6:30.

What does monitoring mean? Really, it just means doing what we already do when we get our dogs together to play. We make sure poop gets scooped, and encourage owners to keep their dogs under reasonable control (curb aggressive behavior, etc.) Monitors will be needed during peak hours: before/after work and on weekends. The specifics of monitoring schedules and responsibilities will be discussed during the meeting.

If you are able to help, please reply to this email and attend the meeting on Thursday. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll be available, please attend the meeting to learn more about the parks, and what everyone can do to make them successful.

Thank you,

Canine Social Club


If you can make it, please do. Hopefully hall monitors won't be necessary once things get rolling, but we all have a stake in ensuring that the first off-leash areas in Ann Arbor open with minimal problems.

Light Posting

First let me apologize for my light and sporadic posting over the past month. I've been preparing for a new job so my attention is focused elsewhere.

That new job begins this week and I will probably be overwhelmed for the first couple of weeks. So unfortunately my posting schedule will probably be even more sporadic until I get in a groove. I'll try to keep on top of major developments, but I can't promise any consistency and I definitely won't be able to make most of the City Council or PAC meetings for a while.

Sorry about this, hopefully it won't be as overwhelming as I'm imagining right now. But I want to let you all know why I'm dropping off the radar for a while.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fee Structure

At last week's City Council meeting plans for four new off-leash areas were unanimously approved. The memo attached (PDF) to that resolution lays out the detailed plan including suggested fee structure.

The fee structure is on page 2 of the PDF. The rates are variable depending on two major factors 1) Swift Run only or all A2 off-leash areas; 2) Spayed/Neutered or intact.

For Swift Run only the rates are: $50 intact or $35 spayed/neutered
For all off-leash areas: $60 intact or $45 spayed/neutered

Those are rates for a single dog. Additional dogs will be charged as follows:

Swift Run only: $25/$15
All areas: $10/$5

So for example I have two fixed dogs and will be buying a permit for all city areas. That will be $45 for the first plus $5 for the second bringing my total to $50 annually.

As I understand it, the permitting will be handled through the city clerk's office and will require proof of vaccination, proper registration, and a signed agreement to follow off-leash area rules. A tag will be issued to each dog to serve as its permit and should be worn whenever in an off-leash area.


This is an interesting fee structure. It is about in the middle of what we have paid elsewhere to use public off-leash areas, those ranging from free to a little over $100 for two dogs. As I've said before, I'm in favor of a nominal fee to manage vaccination and safety concerns as long as dog owners are not being asked to pay all of the support costs in addition to the property taxes we already pay; dog runs should be managed just like other facilities. I would of course like to see these fees a little bit lower, but I think they are reasonable and from my discussions with Parks staff I don't believe that we are being asked to provide the bulk of operating costs.

The structuring of these fees around whether a dog is fixed or not is an interesting thing that I haven't seen elsewhere. I originally thought that it was a response to liability concerns - some parks do not allow unfixed males or females in heat inside at all. But what I have been told is that this is a response to requests by the Humane Society to encourage people to spay or neuter their dogs.

I know that will frustrate some people and I'm not honestly sure how effective it will be. Will someone who is not inclined to fix their dog decide to do so to save $15? I honestly can't say. At the risk of alienating some people though, I'll say that I think it's a good intent and fairly progressive for a city to encourage people to help reduce the stray population by giving a break to animals that have been spayed or neutered.

Whatever your position on that issue, it looks like this will be our fee structure for the first year of decriminalized off-leash play. The fee structure will be up for review annually and Parks staff have told me that they view this as very flexible in the coming years. Once this is in the works, you should feel free to offer constructive criticism. It sounds like the city will be quite receptive to suggestions.


NB - there is language in the memo I linked to above that suggests that hardship scholarships will be available for people who want to buy permits but cannot afford them. I don't know any details about that, but apparently they will be available.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Signs of Progress

I drove by Southeast Area Park while I was running errands today and I was pleasantly surprised to see that work has already begun on the temporary dog run. A (rather tall) chain link fence has been put up with a double gate entrance. It looks like most of the fence is up, but it isn't quite finished.

I assume there are other things that have to happen before it is opened - signage, trash cans, and permitting - and I have no idea how long that will take, but this is a very encouraging sign. Now that Parks staff have a green light to finish, it looks like it's actually going to happen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Election Results

Results of yesterday's primary are here.

Sabra Briere won the three-way challenge for an open seat in Ward 1.

Leigh Greden retained his seat in Ward 3.

Mike Anglin won against incumbent Wendy Woods in Ward 5.

Wards 2 and 4 were uncontested.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Voting Day

Don't forget to vote today if you are in Wards 1, 3, or 5.

Check out my posts of the past few weeks if you haven't been following and want some more info on the candidates.

BTW - lots to report from last night's Council meeting. Good stuff mostly. I'll get a report up today or tomorrow morning.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Council Candidate Survey Responses

Only a handful of the City Council Candidates responded to our survey. It was probably a bit late in the campaign season to send them out.

Responses can be found here.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow. Unless an independent registers between now and the general election in November, the results of tomorrow's primary will be final.

Brief candidate snapshots from the AA News are here.


More information on City elections can be found here. A map of Ward boundaries can be found here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Several Dog Park Items on Agenda for Council Meeting

City Council will finally discuss several dog park issues at their meeting tomorrow (Monday). The full council agenda with links to details about individual issues is available here.

PH4, B3, and DS2 all deal with tweaks to the ordinance change that passed this summer allowing the city to establish off-leash areas. Essentially they are changing the wording to allow Parks staff to approve dog run rules without Council approval.

PH5 and DS8 - "Approve Off-Leash Dog Play Areas at Swift Run Park, Southeast Area Park, Olson Park and Leslie Park and Establish User Fees for Off-Leash Dog Permits."
- Council will be approving plans for four dog runs including the temporary site at Southeast Area Park. After this step the process will be in the hands of Parks staff and should go much more quickly. You may be interested to read the details of DS8 (PDF link) because they include the proposed fee structure. I will have some details and thoughts on this later in the week, after I see how Council discussion goes.

DS18 - "Resolution to Approve a Partnership Agreement between the City of Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Services Unit and Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission for the Development, Maintenance and Operation of a Dog Park at Swift Run Park."
- This is the formal agreement between the City and County regarding their partnership in the Swift Run project. This is also worth a read as it lays out the nitty gritty bureaucratic organization for Swift Run (PDF link). I will also have some thoughts on this later in the week.

This should be an interesting meeting. I don't foresee any challenge to any of these issues, so we should be a large step closer to legal off-leash play on Tuesday morning.

As always, feel free to come out and show your support during one of the public hearing sections
(PH4 and PH5) or by simply watching. If you can't make the meeting, you can catch it on Channel 16 live or Tuesday morning at 11:00.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Questionnaire Results Coming Monday

I've been getting the responses to the City Council Candidate survey I sent around last week. I'll have them posted here as soon as I have all of the responses and have them organized. It will be no later than Monday morning, but probably no earlier than late Sunday night. Check back Monday for all the results.

Enjoy the nice weather this weekend, I hope you can all find somewhere to exercise with your dogs.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Questions for City Council Candidates

I am planning to prepare a short questionnaire to send around to all of the City Council candidates asking them where they stand on dog park issues, what they may have already contributed, and what they plan to do for dog owners as Council Members. This is intended to get a feel for where they all stand in advance of the upcoming elections and also to give a forum for sitting members to explain their perspective on the current situation.

As I'm sure you can tell from my earlier posts, I have strongly ambivalent feelings about the current Council. I know they are the most dog-friendly Council Ann Arbor has had in recent memory and I believe that they are currently working in our interests. I also feel that they have come late to the table, not always understood our positions or urgency, and not been pro-active enough in promoting off-leash play. Thus I look forward to providing an open forum for them to explain in their own words what many of us saw as foot-dragging and broken promises. This exercise should be productive for all of us in establishing common ground for future discussions.

I have prepared a few questions, but I'd like your input. What sorts of things would you like to ask the candidates? Send me some short questions relevant to the topic and I'll include them in my questionnaire. Consider it an action item for the next couple of days. I'm hoping to send it out in the next couple of days, so do it quickly if you want to be included in the final document.

You can post your suggestions in the comments or e-mail me privately at arbordog@hotmail.com

I'll post the results here for everyone to see.

Upcoming City Council Elections

I have been focusing on City Council lately in part because there is a round of elections coming up this fall and several Ann Arbor wards will be contested. Primaries will be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of August and general elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. There is still time for candidates to file petitions to run as independents.

Wards with primaries:
First Ward:
  • Sabra Briere - Democrat
  • John Roberts - Democrat
  • Richard Wickboldt - Democrat

Second Ward:
  • Stephen Rapundalo - Democrat Incumbent

Third Ward:

  • Leigh Greden - Democrat Incumbent
  • LuAnne Bullington - Democrat
Fourth Ward:
  • Marcia Higgins - Democrat Incumbent

Fifth Ward:
  • Wendy Woods - Democrat Incumbent
  • Mike Anglin - Democrat


Currently there are no independents or non-Democrats running and Wards Two and Four have no challengers.

I have been hard on the City Council in the past and I stand behind everything that I have written. However, I do believe that things could be much worse. We have a council that does not oppose dog parks and this has not always been the case in the past. Further, every member has at some point or another stated that she or he supports the Parks system and dog runs specifically.

Thus, I strongly urge you to investigate all of the candidates in your ward and not to vote a pure anti-incumbent ticket unless the challengers appear to be genuinely better candidates. I do not plan to endorse any candidate in any ward but I hope to follow up this post with more details on the individual candidates' positions. It would be wonderful to get some members on Council who will aggressively and actively support our needs, but there have been far worse Councils than the one we have now.

Also, I strongly urge any Ann Arbor resident who is interested in public service to consider running as an Independent. Particularly in the Second and Fourth Wards where there are currently no challengers. If you are interested in making Ann Arbor a more friendly community for dog owners, I think you could garner an awful lot of support and these local elections are often decided by small margins with low turnout.

If you wish to run as an independent, you must gather 100 signatures from within your ward on forms that you can obtain from the City Clerk's office. Filing deadline for Independents is August 8 so get started today.

More information on City elections can be found here. Contact information for the candidates who have filed so far can be found here. A map of Ward boundaries can be found here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Plans In The Works

I have said on a number of occasions that plans are great, but they do very little for us if they can never be realized. I think though that the city has a great deal of momentum toward realizing some plans right now. Here is a section of a status update I recently got from PAC:
Christen [Smith] told PAC that City Council (CC) will be voting on authorizing off leash areas at Swift Run, Olsen, and temporary sites at Southeast and Leslie Parks (among other things having to do with dog parks) at their early August CC meeting.
There are still plenty of things that can slow down the realization of an off-leash area and I am still disappointed that we had to wait this long to get approval for the Southeast temporary dog run (not to mention being a year behind schedule on Swift Run). But this is one major hurdle that will be cleared next week for four separate plans.

Also in this status update were a few details on the Olsen Park plan. That plan is supposed to be put on an expedited schedule, but again we'll have to wait and see since we've heard things like this before. The final plan will not include the existing picnic table and shelter as part of the off-leash area. However since Olsen is not on a capped landfill like Swift Run, it will be much easier to modify in the future and there may be a possibility of adding a shelter structure to the dog run later.

This all looks good, but I'll really believe it when I am watching my dogs play at one of these locations.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Council Re-Modifies Ordinance, Removes One Hurdle

I had to leave Monday's City Council meeting after the first hour. It turns out that a little after I left, something was brought up regarding the recent dog park ordinance change.

As you will recall, Council originally modified PAC's ordinance change resolution in such a way that gave Council final say on placement and regulation of any off-leash area. This week councilmember Lowenstein reopened that ammendment and suggested removing the regulation of off-leash areas from Council control and returning it to city staff. The idea is that rules and regulations may need to be tweaked and changed occasionally and therefore Parks & Rec needs the ability to do it without waiting for approval.

I don't think this will have a noticeable impact on the timelines that we're looking at right now. Neither Southeast Area temporary park, nor the permanent Paw Run facility is likely to be expedited. From the discussion, it sounds like this was how they originally intended things to work, but simply worded it incorrectly the first time.

I'd say this is a minor change in the bigger picture, but a positive one. Staff should be in control of these things and it keeps us from hitting unexpected delays later.

If you'd like to watch the discussion, it is at about EDIT 1:49:00 /EDIT in this video. Here is the official Council Meeting Packet that documents what part of the city code was changed. It's under section C-3.


Thanks Glenn and Christina who both tipped me off and sent the video link.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

City Council and Responsibility Part II

Yesterday I wrote that City Council and the Mayor bear the ultimate responsibility for the never-ending dog park delays because they refuse to actively represent our needs, but rather wait passively for solutions to come to them.

The second reason is much more immediate and has to do with the recently-passed ordinance change. You will recall that the resolution forwarded to Council by PAC gave Parks staff the authority to designate off-leash areas in city parks according to a set of guidelines, but Council changed the language giving themselves the final approval. As I wrote at the time, I was not entirely surprised by this. Some people are apprehensive about dog parks out of unfamiliarity with them and it is in the nature of a political body to retain as much authority as possible.

Having reserved the right to yay or nay off-leash areas, however, Council brought upon itself the responsibility to do so expeditiously. The day after the ordinance change was approved, Parks held a public meeting to discuss a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park. We were told that this was to be something of a stop-gap measure that could be enacted quickly and relieve some of the pressure until the permanent Swift Run facility could be completed. Public response to the Southeast Area plan was positive and we were told that once Council approved the plan, work could begin immediately.

That was June 19th. It is now 28 days later and Council has still not heard the proposal for approval. For four weeks now the only thing keeping work from starting on an off-leash area has been lack of Council approval. I had been told earlier that the plan would be on tonight's Council agenda. Now we are being told that Council has decided not to consider it this week, but wants to wait two more weeks so that they can consider all of the dog park proposals at the same time. That is to say that they are not going to consider the temporary stop-gap solution until they can consider the final city-county agreement for the Swift Run facility at the same time. This is sort of like not applying a bandage to a cut until you can get a doctor's appointment to decide whether or not you need stitches. Thus City Council is responsible for the ongoing delays by actively inserting itself into the process of establishing an off-leash area and then allowing that extra decision-making step to linger and delay a project for an additional six weeks.

At the June 4 Council meeting, when the ordinance change had its first reading, I addressed Council and asked them to take head of our pleas and to actively represent the needs of dog owners in Ann Arbor. The response then, and again this week as we seek answers for the delays, has been that they are doing all they can and that if we simply wait, a plan will eventually reach Council and be enacted. They seem to be saying that we shouldn't expect any more than passive representation.

If any member of City Council wanted to actively represent dog owning voters, she or he had the opportunity over the past month. Any one of them could have taken this issue upon themselves as they would a neighborhood request for a new swingset and they could have actively requested the plan from Parks staff and put it on the Agenda for tonight, or even two weeks ago. Just the same they could have at any time over the past several years pushed PAC and Parks staff to move more quickly to meet our needs. The Swift Run plan wasn't even considered until the County approached AAParks and suggested it.

If they intended for Swift Run to be open last Autumn as they told us last Summer, Council would have pressed PAC for the ordinance change and a final rules resolution a year ago. But they didn't. Not a single Council member has actively represented our needs as voters and taxpayers. They have passively waited for these things to come before them at which point they have been generally supportive. The primary active thing they have done was to add the final approval roadblock, which is the main reason we are not playing at Southeast Area park this afternoon rather than going to address City Council once again.

Please remember this and feel free to plagiarize it or draw from it this fall as we enter a new City Council election cycle. Let your friends know where the responsibility lies and let the candidates know that you hold them accountable. And consider these issues when you are in the voting booth in November. We deserve elected officials who will stand up and represent our needs!

Active Representation

I went to City Council last night and spoke with the members from my ward. They were eager to let me know that things are moving forward on the Southeast Area plan and that all of the dog park issues are moving as quickly as they possibly could. Both of my members genuinely seem to want this to happen and expressed their belief that we have no risk or returning to the back burner.

Similarly, Christina has been getting responses to an e-mail she sent to Council earlier in the week. Those responses emphasize that things are moving more quickly than ever before and are on a pretty high priority. The common theme is that no Council member wants us to underestimate the city's commitment to providing a dog park.

This is great and I don't doubt that most are in favor and nobody on Council is outright opposed to off-leash play right now. I also realize that things have been moving more quickly over the past two months, but this does not absolve Council of responsibility for the delays. Much of the work that they're scrambling to complete now - the ordinance change, rules, agreements, etc - should have been done long ago. They only have to work fast now because this wasn't completed last summer as it should have been to meet the initial target for Swift Run of fall 2006.

Beyond all of that, the frustration that we have been trying to express has to do with the difference between active and passive representation. Most Council Members may be in favor of dog runs, but their pattern has been one of passively waiting for plans to come to them rather than actively supporting our needs and pushing for resolution to the issue. Realistically I wonder how much work would be going now if we hadn't been making noise all summer. I seriously doubt that any temporary solution would be in the works.

I addressed Council last night on this issue, but unfortunately didn't get through the entire statement that I prepared. So I'm posting it here. Enjoy.

Hello and thank you for hearing me today.


I'm hear to speak with you again about the ongoing struggle to get an off-leash dog area in Ann Arbor.


First let me say thank you for passing the ordinance change to make this possible. Many of us saw that as a sign of hope that progress will be made on this issue and the unanimity of it is most encouraging.


The day after the ordinance change became policy, Parks staff held a community meeting about a plan to construct a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park. This is to be a sort of stop-gap solution until the permanent Swift Run plan can be completed. The response at that meeting was overwhelmingly positive and we were thrilled that the city was finally taking action.


You will recall, however, that this body amended PACs ordinance change resolution taking the authority for establishing off-leash areas out of the hands of Parks staff and putting it in the hands of City Council. In so doing you placed an extra hurdle, not necessarily an unreasonable one, but a hurdle nonetheless in the road to resolving this problem that we've been struggling with for so long.


It has now been four weeks since that public meeting and the only thing keeping work from beginning on the off-leash area is Council approval. I had been told that you would hear the plan this week, but when I checked the agenda Friday, I didn't see it. So I did some checking around and I was told that Council has decided not to hear this plan until August 6 so that it can be heard at the same time as the final city-county agreement for Swift Run.


That is to say that you are actively delaying the stop-gap solution until we are closer to enacting the permanent plan. Doesn't that seem a bit like waiting to put a bandage on a cut until you can make a doctor's appointment to determine if you need stitches?


When I spoke to this body way back on June 4, I asked for you to heed the urgency of this issue and to actively represent the needs of dog owning taxpayers. The response then, as every other time that I have asked about this issue, has been that plans are in the works and that if I just wait a little bit longer, something will happen.


This is not active representation. If you were serious about representing dog owners, you could take a pro-active role in making sure that plans are developed, reach council, and are approved. But your history is one of passively waiting for plans to come to you. Even the Swift Run plan was initiated by the county who came to YOU with a proposal. If you were interested in actively supporting our needs, the ordinance change, rules agreements, etc would have been heard last summer since we were told that Swift Run was to be completed last fall. When Swift Run was not finished by last fall, an active representative would have gone to Parks and asked for something to be done quickly to meet the needs.


When the ordinance change came up, you actively inserted yourselves into the process. If you were concerned about actively representing dog owning voters, you would then have actively followed up on the Southeast Area plan to be sure that it got to Council quickly and that the extra hurdle you put in the process did not cause any more delays than necessary. But instead, you have actively put the plan off for yet another meeting cycle.


By the time you hear the Southeast Area plan, it will have been a month and a half. That's a month and a half of delay caused by this body's refusal to actively represent dog owners.


It is clear now that you don't understand the urgency of this situation or what we mean when we say that we desperately need a pro-active group of elected representatives. I am greatly disappointed in this body and I hope that some day you will understand that all we have wanted for these years of begging is for our elected representatives to recognize us as their constituents and to stand up and actively try to find solutions to our needs. Stop passively waiting for solutions to come to you, represent us now.


With the next Council election cycle coming up, many of us are considering whether we have the right representatives in office. For many of us, dog parks are a major voting issue. For some people it is the only issue. Before the last year's elections we were told that Swift Run was going to happen in October, conveniently right after the elections. This summer we are hearing strangely similar things. But actions speak louder than words and right now we are hearing that we are at the bottom of the priority list. Those of you facing contested seats this round may wish to consider this as November draws near.


Thank you for your time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

City Council and Responsibility Part I

There is plenty of responsibility to go around for the continuing delays in getting an off-leash play area in Ann Arbor. Ultimately, however, the buck stops with the Mayor and City Council.

The normal procedure for anything park related to become policy in Ann Arbor is for the staff of Parks & Rec and the Parks Advisory Commission to come up with plans and recommendations and send them to City Council for final approval. Some Parks staff have worked very hard on this issue and certain PAC members have supported us every step of the way, but overall they have not exactly been aggressive in promoting off-leash play.

Council itself has not generally been obstructionist over the past couple of years and in fact passed the dog park ordinance change unanimously last month. But they are still ultimately to blame for the long delay. I say this because a lack of off-leash play areas has been identified as a sore need for years now. I've previously documented some of this history, beginning in 1997 with the creation of Ann Arbor's first dog park task force and continuing through the most recent PROS plan and Parks millage. And yet Council has not been pro-active in finding solutions to the needs of dog-owning taxpayers.

Part of this has to do with the peculiar nature of the dog park movement. In the case of other Parks programs, a particular neighborhood will identify a need - a new playset or disc golf course for example - and approach their Council members about meeting the need. Those Council members will then act on behalf of their constituents, actively bringing the issue to PAC and pursuing it until the neighborhood is satisfied with a solution. They do this both because it is what good elected representatives do and also because they know that ignoring constituents is a good way to lose their seat on the Council.

The dog park movement, however, is not a neighborhood issue - it is a city-wide issue. Voters from all around the city want this to happen and are not particularly concerned about what Ward is chosen as the host. Thus no single set of Council members sees this as their issue and so none of them takes an active role in seeing it through. Paradoxically this means that an issue with broad appeal across the city is more difficult to solve than a local neighborhood issue.

The Swift Run plan is a case in point. That plan began with County Parks & Rec who approached Ann Arbor and suggested it as a joint project. If the County had not approached the City, we may still be without any plan.

This is the first reason that Council bears the ultimate responsibility for our continuing frustrations - none of them has sought to actively represent our needs, rather they wait passively for solutions to come to them.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Parks Advisory Commission Seat Open

The Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) is currently looking for an Ann Arbor resident to fill a seat. This is an unelected body that considers issues related to parks and forwards them to City Council for final Approval.

The only requirements are Ann Arbor residency and a commitment to Parks Issues.

Contact Brigit Macomber if you are serious about serving. It would be great to have another pro-dog voice on the Commission.

734-474-4065

Unfortunately I'll be unable to attend the meetings beginning in August so this is impossible for me.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Saline's Mill Pond Off-Leash Area Temporarily Closed

FYI - While the Saline Celtic Festival is going on this weekend, Mill Pond Park is closed to pets. Bummer, no swimming for us this weekend.

The play area at Pet Emporium remains open.

Presumably Saline will be back to two dog parks next week.

Meanwhile we'll still be at zero in Ann Arbor.

Canine Social Club at Huron River Days Tomorrow

EDIT: I originally wrote that this was happening Saturday, but it is Sunday July 15 at 11:00 AM. I'm sorry for any confusion and I hope this didn't cause anybody any inconvenience.

The Canine Social Club will have a table at the Huron River Days festivities tomorrow. It isn't listed on the official HRD website, but there will apparently be a dog walk at 11:00 AM Sunday starting from the Perk & Paddle Cafe at the Gallup Canoe Livery.

If you're looking for something to do tomorrow, swing by and meet the good people of the CSC. You can sign up for their e-mail list if you haven't already and talk to them about the never-ending struggle to get a dog park in Ann Arbor.

I'm planning to stop by with my pooches to enjoy the festivities and I'll probably swing by the CSC table for a few minutes to say hi. Hope to see you there!

Council Delays Southeast Area Park Plan

I was optimistic after a few good steps that I actually thought the city had made dog owners a priority. But now I realize that I was fooling myself. City Council has once again delayed the Southeast Area Park off-leash area plan. I had originally been told that they were planning to hear it at the meeting next Monday (the 16th). But when I checked the meeting agenda on the city's website yesterday, it was nowhere to be found. So I did some checking and now I'm told that Council will not hear the plan until August 6.

You will remember that the public meeting for Southeast Area Park was June 16 and that we were told at the time that the only thing left keeping work from beginning was City Council approval. It is just ridiculous that this should have to wait more than a month and a half to even be considered by the City Council. They have broken a series of public promises about opening a dog park, they know that we are frustrated, this plan was supposed to provide temporary relief until a more permanent plan could be put in place. But it is clear now that they don't really care about dog owners and they don't care about the broken promises.

One other point bears remembering right now. The only reason that Council has to give its approval for this plan is that they insisted on that as a condition for passing the off-leash ordinance change. The ordinance resolution that PAC forwarded to Council allowed Parks staff to make the final approval decisions. This is how most other facilities are approved in city parks. In its reading at Council however, it they decided to change it so that they could have the last say.

I understand that some people have anxiety about dog parks, even if it is misplaced. But by inserting themselves into the process, City Council has added an extra layer of bureaucracy. Thus I believe that they brought a responsibility upon themselves to make sure that this extra layer doesn't translate into serious delays. They have not lived up to that responsibility. Rather they have already let it cause at least a month and a half delay in a project that was supposed to quickly relieve pressure caused by the city's previous delays and broken promises.

At the council meeting where the ordinance change had its first reading I addressed council. Among other things I asked them to become pro-active supporters of dog-owning taxpayers once the resolution was passed. I let them know that we feel neglected and barely tolerated and that we need our elected representatives to actively represent our needs. In their discussions it was clear that they believe they are doing all they can for us and don't see how they could help any more. They could help by taking seriously the responsibilities of being the final arbiter of dog run projects. That would mean actively bringing them to the table for approval and not allowing the extra hurdle that they created to cause serious delays.

Remember this when you speak with Council Members or candidates for local office and remember this when you vote in the local elections this fall.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Status Update

First let me apologize for my very light posting lately. Been traveling and otherwise distracted, but I should be back for a while.

For a status update of another kind - I recently came across a document with updates on the projects that city departments are currently working on. There is a brief mention of the dog park plans which I'll post here in full:
  • Work on the Swift Run Dog Park facility continues. Design for the facility is complete. The design process has included community input at public meetings and design meeting with special interest groups. The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and PAC recommended approval of an inter-governmental partnership agreement for development and operation of the Swift Run Dog Park at their June meetings. A Memorandum of Agreement between the City and County for maintenance of the facility has also been developed. City Council is expected to consider the partnership agreement at its July 16, 2007 meeting. Staff will also propose providing a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park that will serve the community during the late summer months as the Swift Run site is under construction. The temporary site at Southeast Area Park will include temporary fencing, signage, and trash containers, all of which will be removed from the site when the Swift Run Dog Park is completed. Staff is also initiating planning for an off-leash area at Olson Park.

This seems fairly promising. Not much new information, but it's a nice snapshot of exactly where we are right now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Southeast Area Park Plan To Be Considered July 16

I am hearing now that the plan for a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park will be heard by City Council at the July 16 meeting. As far as I know nothing is official yet since the agenda hasn't yet been released, but it seems that the plan has been forwarded by Parks & Rec without going through PAC. It would have been nice to see this yesterday, but at least it doesn't have to wait until August.

Once Council approves the plan I think it will go ahead fairly quickly. There are no other public approval hurdles and it was my impression from the public meeting that bids would be taken in the interim. Construction should be very quick since it is a temporary fence with no brush-clearing or earthwork to be done.

If all goes smoothly, we could be playing off-leash at Southeast Area Park by the end of the month.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dog Run NOT On Council Agenda

The agenda packet for next week's City Council meeting is online now.

Unless I missed it, the Southeast Area Park dog run plan is NOT on the agenda. This means that no construction or other work can begin for at least two more weeks since that's the next Council meeting.

I'm not sure how this works exactly, but my suspicion is that this won't be on the Council agenda until it is forwarded by the Parks Advisory Commission. The next PAC meeting isn't until July 17 and the following Council meeting is on August 6.

I'll check into this and find out for sure if this protocol has to be followed. If it does, this means that we still have over a month before construction can even begin on the temporary off-leash area. That seems pretty ridiculous.

If you haven't already contacted City Council to urge them to approve this plan ASAP, this might be a good time to do so. Meanwhile I'll look into ways that we can put pressure elsewhere to fast track this plan.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Action Item: Get Southeast Area Park Plan Approved

We are in a very good position right now and close to having our first off-leash area. It may be temporary, but the Southeast Area Park dog run will be a real step forward. However according to the ordinance change that takes effect this week, City Council must approve any new off-leash area. We need to convince them to put the plan on the agenda for the next meeting and get it approved so that work can begin.

Action:
- Contact the mayor and your Council Members (information here) and ask them to put this plan on the agenda for next Monday's meeting
- Ask them to approve the plan so that work can begin immediately.

One more thing:
- You may wish to thank them for passing the ordinance change unanimously last week.
- Let them know that you noticed that and appreciate their support of dog-owning tax payers.
- A round of Council elections is coming up and continued support for dog park issues will be a major factor in many voters' decisions.

We've made a lot of progress so far this summer and the voices of you the concerned residents of Ann Arbor are largely to thank for that. Let's keep our profile up so that we can see the final steps become reality.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Southeast Area Park Meeting

Last night's meeting about Southeast Area Park was very good. The plan is essentially to put a temporary wooden snow fence around approximately one acre. That will serve as an off-leash location until Swift Run is finally finished.

The location of the proposed dog run is in the far east edge of the park between the gravel parking lot and Platt Rd. It is apparently the site of a former house. There is a line of mature trees here that will offer shade. Frankly this is the nicest location that I've seen in any off-leash proposals in terms of landscape and access.

There were around 15-20 people at the meeting. Almost all were in favor and very vocally supportive, it was nice to see the turnout. I spoke with one neighbor who was concerned because he doesn't want the off-leash area to become permanent and would rather have Swift Run finished quickly. That is a sentiment I share deeply. Nobody else spoke against the plan, but one person seemed like he wasn't excited about the idea.

Realistically, I find it difficult to see how there could be much opposition. Even if this were a plan for a permanent park, it is on a piece of land that is far from anything else and currently completely abandoned. The plan doesn't involve any landscape modification or tree-cutting except the erection of a four-foot fence. Any opposition at this point would have to be pure NIMBYism.

The timeline for this project seems to be "very soon." Amy Kuras, the planner in charge, said that she intends to get started as soon as she gets the green light from higher up and it should be a quick project. The only potential delay is City Council approval. As you'll recall from earlier posts, the off-leash ordinance change included language that requires any off-leash area to be designated by Council. That means that this probably has to get on the agenda and be voted on at a Council meeting before work can start. The next meeting is in two weeks so we'll be doing an action item soon to get this through ASAP.

It genuinely looks like Parks & Rec is trying to find us a partial solution as quickly as they can. I'm thrilled with this plan and I hope this momentum continues.

NB - I have gotten quite a bit more info on Olson park and I think my early skepticism may have been partially unnecessary. I'll post more on that later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Olson Park

I haven't gotten the details from last night's Olson Park meeting yet, but I drove out to see the place. My thoughts aren't solid yet and I welcome any new facilities for off-leash play.

Having said that, I was struck with just how far away from almost everything Olson Park is. Driving there you pass the sign indicating that you have left the city of Ann Arbor and entered the township. I understand that the park is half owned by the water authority. All of this seems oddly familiar to the Swift Run project which is on the farthest edge of town and not solely a property of A2Parks & Rec. The bureaucratic complications that come with such a joint project are largely to blame for the Swift Run slow-downs.

I also noticed that most of Olson Park is in wildflowers and set up as a water-conservation landscape. I'm not sure where the proposed off-leash area would be, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear later down the road that the whole area is too environmentally fragile for such a project.

Edit: Sandy D informs us in comments that Olson is a former gravel pit. This explains its unique landscape and also suggests that environmental fragility will NOT be a problem. Yay.

It is my understanding that Olson was chosen because there is some maintenance/upgrade money in its budget that may be available for an off-leash area. I appreciate Parks & Rec trying to get creative with funding sources, but it seems like they keep choosing the most marginal and complicated locations. It is hard to believe that dog-owners are taken seriously as a group to be served rather than tolerated when every proposal that we see puts us as far out of the way as possible and is filled with complications.

Remember, the Ward Park proposal, which would have been fairly central and simple, was not shut down because of public outcry as some reports have suggested. It was not possible because Parks was not willing to provide the necessary funds to satisfy the concerns of dog-owners and neighbors.

I'll withhold final judgment on Olson Park until I hear more details. Even if it is imperfect I would welcome an off-leash area at any park as long as it won't be used down the road to deny us something more ideal. Right now, it would also be nice see the limited resources they are willing to offer us go to plans that will be most immediately implementable and have the most positive effect.

Action Item: Attend Southeast Area Park Planning Meeting

A meeting will be held at Southeast Area Park tonight to discuss the possibility of a temporary off-leash area. The idea is that something would be set up for the time until Swift Run is complete.

Action:
- Attend tonight's meeting
-- Shelter House at Southeast Area Park NW corner of Platt and Ellsworth
-- Tuesday, June 19 7:00 PM
- Support the temporary proposal and urge the city to move quickly
- If you can't make the meeting e-mail Amy Kuras akuras@a2gov.org with your thoughts

This is our best chance of getting something usable this summer. It will be far from perfect, but at least something will be available while better solutions are worked out.

Ordinance Change Approved!

The ordinance change passed unanimously at Council last night. This is great news, it means that 10 days from now (the period it takes to file and publish the change) Ann Arbor will have the legal authority to designate off-leash play areas. Now we can focus on actually getting those off-leash areas.

Unfortunately I had to leave the meeting between the public hearing and second reading and when I got home and flipped on the TV, they had already moved beyond the second reading. So I don't know the details of the discussion, but it must have been pretty short. This is also a very good sign.

Now we just need to convince them of our sense of urgency and get dog-owners a slightly higher priority so that we can get some workable plans in the works.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Action Item: Support Ordinance Change

Monday's City Council meeting will include a public hearing and second reading for the off-leash ordinance change. If this passes second reading, the legal ground work will be in place for providing off-leash areas in Ann Arbor. Council voted unanimously to send this to second reading, but several members expressed concern and suggested that they may not ultimately support the change. These members were seeking additional information about specifics including liability and public support.

The public hearing is a time during the Council meeting when the floor is open for any resident to stand up and express concerns or support. This is our final opportunity to convince wavering members that allowing off-leash areas is a good idea that will only help the city and that they should vote in favor of it.

Action:
- Attend City Council meeting Monday at 7:00 pm and express support during the public hearing. This is listed as PH-2 on the agenda and will come very early in the meeting.
- If you cannot come to the meeting please contact your council members (information here) and share your thoughts.

Some things to keep in mind:
- The vote will be on the ordinance change allowing the city to designate off-leash areas. There is no language or discussion here about specific plans. You should feel free to share any thoughts on specific implementation ideas, but what they really need to hear about right now is simply support for changing city code to allow the legal designation of off-leash areas.
- This is a change that many Ann Arborites have been seeking for over a decade.
- Setting aside controlled spaces for off-leash play is a good way to limit liability elsewhere and create a safer and more pleasant park experience for everybody.

From what I can see, I expect this to pass. But there is still reason to be concerned since some members expressed reservations at the last meeting. They definitely notice when several constituents voice support for an issue on which they are wavering. We can help ensure that this happens.

You may have noticed that the Olson Park planning meeting is happening Monday at 7:00 also. Interested people are encouraged to go to that meeting to hear the plans and have input. If you do, please contact your Council reps sometime before Monday evening to make your voice heard on the ordinance change.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Off-Leash FAQs

This document has been circulating around City Council and the relevant parties for the past month or two. Council Member Lowenstein referred to it during the conversation about the ordinance change at the last meeting.

It is a set of frequently asked questions about off-leash hours in parks in New York. I have expressed reservations before about off-leash hours and I haven't changed my position on that, but it is still a likely partial solution for us. Also, this FAQ deals with more general issues of community relations, public benefit, etc.

I'm glad to see that this is floating around the powers that be since I think it is a nice, even-handed treatment of the issues. There are a few things that I would change, but it's worth perusing if you are still unsure about the wisdom of off-leash areas or if you want to be better prepared to speak with people who are.

Thanks to Vanessa for passing this along to me!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Overrated

We've been noticed by Ann Arbor Is Overrated. I suppose that means we've made the A2 blogosphere big-time.

Welcome new visitors from AAIO! Take a look at some of the older posts for background information and let us know what you think.

Here's where we stand right now: An ordinance change that will allow the city to designate off-leash areas passed first reading at last week's Council meeting. As I understand it, that means there will be a public hearing and second reading at next Monday's meeting. Supporters are strongly encouraged to come and speak at the public hearing or to contact your council members and encourage them to pass the change on second reading. Contact information is in the sidebar to the right.

There are also two public meetings next week to discuss plans for off-leash areas in Olson and Southeast Area Parks. If either of those is in your neighborhood, feel free to come to the meeting or contact Amy Kuras (akuras@a2gov.org) to let your thoughts be known.

This is all very encouraging. It looks like Ann Arbor will come out of the doggie dark ages some time this summer, but skepticism is wise. We've been hopeful in the past only to be disappointed by new roadblocks. The more supportive voices Council hears, the more likely this is to become reality.

Another Letter

One more letter to the editor in today's News.

Now that it looks like the community dog run project is back on the table with adequate funding, half of this letter is already moot. The points are worth noting anyhow.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Promising Upcoming Meetings

It looks like the Community Dog Run program is not dead after all. Two meetings have been announced to discuss two different plans for off-leash play areas.

First, a meeting to discuss a fenced off-leash area at Olson Park
- Monday June 18, 7:00 PM
- Olson Park Picnic Shelter
- Corner of Dhu Varren Rd. and Pontiac Trail













The following day there will be another meeting to discuss a temporary fence at Southeast Area Park
- Tuesday June 19, 7:00 PM
- Southeast Area Park Picnic Shelter
- Corner of Platt and Ellsworth Rds.












This is extremely encouraging. First it looks like Parks and Rec has heard our concerns and those of non-dog owners and realizes that fences are worth the investment. It also looks like they intend to go forward with the community dog run program and also to provide a temporary solution until Swift Run can be opened.

As always I have my skepticism and I'll wait to see what becomes a reality before I am really convinced. But it appears that we are really being taken seriously now and that we may even have a usable off-leash space within the next couple of months.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Friendly Council Member Retiring

EDIT: I see now that the meeting I mention in this post will be at noon. Sorry I missed that the first time through.

I just saw in a comment at arborupdate that City Council member Robert Johnson of the 1st Ward will not seek re-election in the next round. Johnson has been a major supporter of dog parks and an all around good member of Council.

This won't mean any changes until the next City Council election this fall so it is not going to change things for us in the immediate future. However, it would be nice to get a replacement that will also be a strong advocate of off-leash play and dog owners.

There will apparently be a meeting of First Ward Democrats to discuss the next candidate. If you live in the First Ward, consider going to this meeting and letting the pool of candidates know that this is an important issue. Even better, if you live in the First Ward and have some time on your hands run for this seat and be our champion on Council.

According to the post at arborupdate, the meeting will be this Saturday June 9, at the Community Center, 625 N. Main at Noon.

With Council primaries coming up in August, this is a good time generally to find out which of your CMs are up for re-election, if they have challengers in the primary or general election, and where both the incumbents and challengers stand on dog-park-related issues.

I see for example that Wendy Woods in the Fifth Ward has a primary challenger. If you're a fifth Ward voter, contact both of them and find out what they'll do for us.

CM Woods spoke at length during Monday's discussion. It appears that she is generally supportive but doesn't understand why we are so frustrated. She made a fairly elaborate show during her questioning of Jayne Miller that the city has provided the land for Swift Run and is doing ever so much to help dog owners and that those of us who are voicing frustration just don't know how good we have it. I don't think she is opposed to the project at all, but she really seems to believe that we've got more than we really need and we should just sit back and be quiet while the move at whatever pace they choose.

If you don't know what ward you vote in, you can see a map here.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Council Meeting Video

I've been trying to edit Monday's Council meeting to post on YouTube. Unfortunately, getting it off my DVR and onto the web is far more complicated than I though. Fortunately the entire meeting is posted on Google Videos now.

You can watch the entire meeting here.

The dog park issue is addressed by speakers in public commentary starting at 21:15. Be sure to catch the second speaker, very eloquent and several strong points.

The Council begins discussing the ordinance change just after 1:06:00.

Loading the whole video takes a little while, but it's all we've got for now.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Today's News included a response to last week's Ward Park setback.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Action Item: Tell A Friend

We've had some labor-intensive action items lately, so here's an easy one.

There are still an awful lot of people who don't know what's going on with the off-leash play issue. Almost every time I'm at Mill Pond or another play area, I hear people saying "Man I wish Ann Arbor had a dog park, any idea why they don't?" I usually take the opportunity to offer more information than anybody really wants, but it's clear that most dog owners have no idea where we stand.

Please help spread the word

Action:
- Tell anyone you know or meet who is interested where we stand
- Offer the information to strangers who seem interested when you are at Mill Pond, another play area, the pet store, or any other situation where they might be interested.
- Fill them in on the continuing delays and foot-dragging
- Let them know that an ordinance change is in the works and we are promised (again) something usable this fall
- Tell them about the continuing roadblocks to the community dog park program
- Give them the URL for this blog so that they can get more information, follow developments and get involved

The more people who know about this the better. There is clearly a lack of organization on this issue, but the more people who speak up the more seriously the city has to take us.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ordinance Change Passes First Reading!

Tonight's Council meeting was quite long, but we're a step closer to legal off-leash play. Good news!

I won't go into details now since I'm pretty exhausted, but here are the basics -
There was another speaker in favor of the dog park during public commentary. He was extremely eloquent and powerful, hitting all the right notes concisely. My public commentary was considerably less well-delivered, but I think I got my main point across.

Council discussed the ordinance change for quite a while. Concerns mostly focused on neighborhood opposition and safety issues. I think most of the concern comes from unfamiliarity and a genuine desire for more information. While I don't think anybody on the Council is opposed to off-leash play outright, there are some real reservations. A few members were very vocally in favor of providing this service, hopefully this will translate into some real representation in the near future.

Jayne Miller was questioned for a brief time. She was basically brought up to state that the city has committed resources to this and are trying to make something happen, but that there simply isn't any public support. I'll have more on this later.

There was one change to the proposed language. As written, the ordinance change would have allowed Parks staff to designate off-leash areas. An amendment was added that requires Council approval of any off-leash area. This means a little extra slow-down before anything can be implemented, but it's really no surprise.

In the end the ordinance passed its first reading unanimously with several members expressing reservations and looking for more information before the second reading.

I spoke briefly again at the end of the meeting. I essentially thanked Council and noted that many of the concerns they have would actually be alleviated rather than aggravated by implementation of controlled off-leash areas.

In all, the meeting went about how I expected. It would have been nice to see the change passed on first reading, but that was always a long shot. Not having a single nay vote at this point is really a very good thing.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Council Meeting

The ordinance change allowing the city to designate off-leash areas is on the agenda for Monday's City Council meeting. Here is a PDF memo with the changes proposed.

Hopefully this can be passed quickly and something can be done to provide relief to the off-leash problem this summer.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Article in Today's News

The Ann Arbor News published an article today about the continuing saga of city obstruction to a dog run. They even included a link to us! If this is your first time visiting our blog, please take a look at some previous posts, there is a lot of background information here.

It's a nice article that captures the basic outlines of our situation. One of the things that Jayne Miller of the Parks Department is quoted as saying in the article is that "neighbors don't want [a dog run]." Although there certainly is opposition, I don't think that's a fully accurate statement. There were approximately four people (out of 40) at the first Ward Park planning meeting who voiced opposition to the plan. Of them, one didn't live in the neighborhood and at least one wasn't outright opposed to a dog run, he just wanted to make sure that it wouldn't cause problems if it went ahead.

Further, it is my understanding that previous plans have gained neighbor support. Swift Run for example has general support and South Maple Park had a series of positive public meetings but was nixed by the Utilities department who wants to put a water tower on the site eventually.

There will always be some people in opposition to any project. The dog run program is clearly one that draws vocal opposition, but it also has a huge amount of support. At all of the planning meetings, opponents have been outnumbered by supporters many times over. The city itself has identified this as a major need in the Pros Plan, the Dog Park task force report of 1998, and public discussion on the recent millage that was passed.

As Glenn pointed out in response to a previous post, the city is going ahead with a million dollar rennovation at the city market that essentially amounts to moving some trees and building a gazebo that many people have opposed. I think it's just as fair to say that Market patrons and neighbors "don't want" the gazebo, and yet there is $1,000,000 for it? How does that square?

There is a lot more in the article that I'll get to later. I'm fuming a bit right now over several things. The stories from Parks and Rec on several fronts seem to change every time I hear from them. There is no good reason that there isn't a dog run open yet except that we aren't considered an important constituency. Voices of opponents to these plans have been given far more weight by the city than those in favor, but don't we pay the same property taxes?

For now, take a read and don't hesitate to send your reaction to City Council, Parks and Rec, PAC, or The News as a letter to the editor.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Temporary Fence

One of the ways that we might be able to have off-leash this summer is if we can convince the city to set up something temporary until Swift Run gets off the ground. We've discussed this here before and it came up again at the Ward Park meeting last week.





Many folks seem unclear on what this would look like. I'm posting some photos of the temporary dog run that Saline set up last year while they were reseeding the Mill Pond Park Dog Run. As you can see, this is temporary snow fence, which the city most likely already owned for use in winter months, held up by steel fence stakes, which are also probably owned by the city. Thus the costs must have been quite low.

When I have suggested this in the past, I have heard concerns about keeping this type of fence erect. I don't know if something special was done to the fence at Mill Pond, but in the month or two that it was open I went several times per week and never saw sections falling down. The gateway was a bit of a problem. (seen in the third picture) All that was done at Saline was to tie some wire around the top slats where the fence came together so that people could hold the ends together when they came in. This ad hoc gate fell down occasionally and people sometimes found it difficult to close properly. If that is too much of a worry for Ann Arbor, I'd suggest getting a single chain-link gate, either set two posts for it or get a free-standing temporary piece. This obviously would add to the cost, but we are still talking about much lower numbers than even the pittance that Parks is willing to spend for this project.

One other note - you'll notice that a children's play area is located very close to the dog run. As far as I know there were never any problems with interactions between dogs and children, nor were there any between dog owners and children. This is a concern that we hear very often, if dogs and their owners come near play areas, the children will be in grave danger. The Saline example proves quite the contrary, several times when I was there, parents would bring their children over to watch the dogs. Dog owners and parents should not be set in opposition to each other the way dog park opponents seem to think is natural. In many cases they overlap and in most cases we get along splendidly.

Point of Reference

The average annual property tax paid by a homeowner in Ann Arbor is $5,520 based on an average home value of $230,000*.

I find this interesting considering the amount the city is willing to provide for the community dog run program. In addition to being less than a third of the city's in-house estimates for what this project will cost, the $5,000 that they are willing to provide is less than the average property taxes paid by a single home in a single year in Ann Arbor.

I'm looking for information on how many dogs or dog-owning households are in Ann Arbor (out of town at the moment, sporadic research/posting). I'll let you know as soon as I find out how many of us there are, but it is clear that we have paid more than enough into the Parks budget to provide the services we have been promised for a decade now.

We have paid our share, we have waited patiently, we have offered constructive voices. It is time for the city to live up to its responsibilities.



*(These statistics came from here and are unsourced, but based on what I pay and what my home is worth, this seems pretty accurate. I know it's an unusual source, but it's the best I could find quickly).

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Garden Home Park Information

In the action item yesterday I mentioned Garden Home Park. Here is a link to a PDF with some information on that facility, which is currently being constructed.

As you can see it is quite elaborate. I don't have any information on the costs, but it must be far more than an acre of simple chain link fence.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. I have nothing against neighborhood play areas. I think they are a crucial part of a well-run city parks program and I'm glad that Ann Arbor has them. I post this to illustrate the fact that large sums of money are being found to fund some very elaborate parks projects right now. At the same time we are being told that none can be found for the community dog run program. The money all comes from the same pot and while this type of facility reproduces scores of others already available, it is neither being delayed nor cut back due to budgetary constraints.

It is clear that Parks and Rec has the resources to provide the services that it keeps promising, just not the will. Dog-owning tax payers are apparently a very low priority group for them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Action Item: Tell the City to Make Good on Promises

I know we just had an action item that involved writing city council last week, but it is clear now that Parks & Recreation considers dog owners the lowest priority. The only way to change that is to ask for our elected officials to take up the cause. Given that we were dealt a dramatic set-back this week, we can make a strong case that we are not being taken seriously and they have a responsibility to stand up for us.

Action:
*Go to the City Council meeting Monday evening and speak out
You can sign up (details here) in advance to speak at the start of the meeting or
You can wait until the end and speak during the public commentary section
*If you can't make the meeting then e-mail or call City Council and the Mayor (contact information here).
Tell them that you are tired of being blown off with promises that never come through
Tell them that your needs as a taxpayer and a voter are not being met
Ask them to find the money for the community dog run program

Some useful talking points:
*Ann Arbor has been talking about a dog park for 10 years now (more info here)
*Last June we were told that Swift Run would be open Fall 2006 (it isn't open yet)
*After going through the planning the city has decided not to provide the necessary funds for the Community dog run program.
*We are tired of broken promises and unrealized plans.
*Money is being found for facilities such as Brookside Park (some information here, currently being completed) and Garden Homes Park, which reproduce services already available throughout the city.
*Dog owners pay plenty of taxes into the parks budget, but we are totally without services.
*Off-leash play has been identified by the city as a badly needed service (e.g. here and here)
*We need representation and advocacy from our elected officials

A Point of Clarification

Just to be clear, the funding that has been nixed is for the community dog park program, which is distinct from Swift Run. The big Swift Run project is still officially in the works and I'm hearing lots of promises that it will be done this fall. But remember that this project has been in the works for a long time now and many promises have been broken. In fact, it was on the PAC agenda last month, but never came to discussion. Realistically, Swift Run will probably happen in the future, the only question is how distant that future is and what kinds of solutions we will have in the interim.

Also, the city is still theoretically in favor of the community dog park program, just not willing to fund it. This means that alternate solutions may be possible including hours in parks, non-fenced off-leash areas, or something more creative. However, given the slow pace of planning and the fact that Ward Park is now deep-sixed, it will probably be a very long time before any of that can be a reality.

Once the code change allowing off-leash areas passes, the city will be legally ready to provide something for us. That means that getting that passed is our top priority now and our second priority is getting them to act quickly once it's passed. When the code change is a reality, we will find out just how committed Ann Arbor really is to providing services to dog-owning tax payers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ward Park Nixed by Funding

The Ward Park planning meeting was as bad as it could possibly have been. We were told that the city will only provide $5,000 in total for the project. That is for everything including construction, signage, maintenance, and any other expenses. The city's own estimates call for $15-20,000 to simply fence an acre and maintain it at Ward Park.

This means that there will be no Ward Park off-leash area and it is unlikely that any dog run will be feasible anywhere in the city.

That is not an exaggeration. The Parks Planning office has effectively decided to eliminate the community dog park project by underfunding it.

Since Ward Park is not in the cards, the meeting was very short. We talked briefly about other options and ways to work around the funding limitations. We are going to have to get creative to make anything happen, but it is clear that nothing will happen soon.

I am outraged by this and I'm sure most of you are too. After a decade of foot-dragging and repeated promises that never materialize, they have again pushed dog-owning tax payers to the side.

The decision to provide less than a third of the city's own estimates for this project seems to have come from higher up in the organization. We need to contact the city en masse to demand that they stop treating us like we are unimportant and start making good on their promises. I'll be posting an action item on this very soon. For now I just wanted to let everyone know where we stand.

This is every bit as bad as it sounds.

Ward Park Meeting Today

Don't forget. The second planning meeting for the proposed off-leash area at Ward Park is this evening. It's a chance to voice your support for safe and legal off-leash play and also a chance to have input on how the neighborhood dog park program will be organized.

If you can't make it, you can e-mail Amy Kuras (akuras@a2gov.org) and let her know your thoughts. I'll have a synopsis of the meeting sometime this evening or tomorrow morning.

Ward Park Planning Meeting (PDF)
7:00 PM
Ann Arbor Church of Christ
2500 S. Main St.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Petition

Christina has created an on-line petition asking the city to move quickly on amending the city code to allow off-leash areas and then to act quickly in providing a temporary play area this summer. Please sign it if you agree with her points.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Action Item: Attend Ward Park Planning Meeting Tuesday

This Tuesday, May 29, is the second planning meeting for the proposed Ward Park off-leash area. It is important that we show our support for this plan and our eagerness to get off-leash areas established. This is also your chance to participate in the organizational discussion so that you can have a voice in exactly how the Ward Park project is implemented. Since this will be a pilot project on which many more dog runs will (hopefully) be based, your input now will have effects into the future.

Action: Attend Ward Park Planning Meeting (PDF) -
7:00 PM
Ann Arbor Church of Christ
2500 S Main St

If you can't make the meeting, you can contact Amy Kuras at akuras@a2gov.org and let her know your thoughts.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bumper Stickers Available Now




Get 'em while they're hot!

The latest must-have for the motoring dog park supporter is the bumper sticker you see at the right. And you can have your very own for your woof-wagon, canine-car, mongrel-mobile, or bark-bus.

Available now at Dogma in Kerrytown and Big City Small World Bakery at Miller and Spring. Hopefully available soon at The Dog-O-Mat off Packard near Stadium and Animal Kingdom in Saline.

Be the first on your block to show your support while riding in style.

Thanks to Vanessa's dad for the design work!



***BTW - We're asking for a donation of $1 for each sticker, an envelope is provided. We have no interest in making any money, this will just cover some of the costs of printing. If you really can't spare the bill but you want to put a sticker on your car, please go ahead and take one.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Action Item: Ask City Council to Approve Code Change

If you are an Ann Arbor resident, you can help expedite an off-leash area by writing or calling City Council this week and asking them to change the city code. PAC has passed a resolution calling for a change of code that would allow the city to designate off-leash areas. That change has to take effect before anything else can happen. The resolution was forwarded to Council last month, but it still hasn't made its way to a meeting agenda.

Changing city code requires two votes in council and a public hearing. However a Council member may request approval on first reading. Either way, it will be several weeks after the City Council takes up the issue before changes can be made. Ask them to take up this issue immediately so that we can have some relief this summer.

ACTION:
*Contact City Council and the mayor using this link or the information on this page.
*Ask that they put PAC's proposed change on the meeting agenda ASAP.
*Ask for the change to be approved at first reading.
*Feel free to express your frustration with the broken promises and continued delay of the Swift Run plan or any other thoughts you may have on the issue.
*Be polite but firm.

This is a change that has been needed since the start of this whole process. For Swift Run to open last September (as we were promised last June), the change should have taken effect in late summer 2006. The resolution just left PAC last month. This is just one example of the foot dragging that has held up the project. With all the time they have had and the immediate need for a dog run there is no excuse for this delay. Asking for the change to happen immediately is not asking to rush, only to make up for some of the delay.

In my conversations with people at City Hall, I have been told very unofficially that a temporary solution may be possible in the time between passing the code change and the opening of Swift Run. This is the most realistic hope we have of getting a safe and legal place to recreate with our dogs off leash in the next several months.

Let's try to make this happen.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Letter to the Editor

In case you missed it, Vanessa had a letter to the editor published in yesterday's Ann Arbor News. Good points, well put, and succinct.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PAC Meeting

Just home from the PAC meeting. Not much to report, but a few interesting bits.

I spoke during the commentary section and was told basically that Swift Run might be available in late September if all goes well so I should just run along and be quiet. Frustrating.

Swift Run was in the meeting packet, but the discussion never got it that far. This is precisely why I don't believe their promises that it will be available this year.

On a more positive note a resolution was discussed* that included language about a future park on the north side of the city to complement Swift Run. That should be happy news for those folks living on that side of town who don't want to drive all the way to Platt and Ellsworth. At least happy news for those who will live there several years down the road.

If we can wait long enough, it looks like Ann Arbor will be a very nice town to live in with dogs. The problem is that we've been waiting long enough already. We've been promised an answer just around the corner for years now. Most recently we were promised that Swift Run would be ready by fall 2006. That promise was broken. The city has let us down and they need to understand the urgency of the situation. More promises and planning don't do anything to help the problem. We need action now.



*ed note: earlier I indicated that this resolution was passed. It was discussed very briefly and tabled. So a north city dog park may be in the future but it is WAY down the line. Thanks to Vanessa for catching that and also for coming out to the meeting!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Swift Run

I just scanned the PAC meeting packet for the May 15 meeting and a couple of things jumped out at me.

First, this document seems to indicate that Swift Run will be complete and usable by "Late Summer" or September. I had previously been told that October was a best-case scenario. While September is only a little better and still would probably require everything to go perfectly, which is unlikely, it is an improvement.

Also I notice that the Swift Run plan will include a fee for users. The packet doesn't say how much this fee will be or how access will be managed. It does indicate that the fee is intended to offset the costs of the facility. This is understandable since it isn't a cheap undertaking - this same document indicates development costs of just over $150,000 and annual operating costs of $33,000. That is no small chunk of change and certain other park facilities such as pools and skating rinks use fees to offset costs.

I also know that a nominal fee for an admittance tag or similar can be a good way to enforce rules and make sure that dogs coming in have had their shots, etc.

On the other hand, for perspective consider the Brookside neighborhood park. This is a new park in the Brookside neighborhood near Ellsworth and Stone School Rd. The area recently changed from township to city and the city has purchased the lot and upgraded it with elaborate play equipment and earth works. I can't say what the actual costs were, but the PAC minutes from Feb 17, 2005 (PDF) indicate that $270,000 was set aside for this purpose with $50,000-$70,000 estimated as the cost of improvements after acquisition of the land. All of that for a park like scores other around town.

I don't want to pick on Brookside, it looks like a beautiful park and I think it's a good thing for that neighborhood. I bring it up because it is being completed right now and it illustrates how much we are already paying from our taxes to park facilities that are essentially intended for use by a few people in their immediate vicinity. By contrast, Swift Run is intended to service the entire community and it will fill a need not being addressed anywhere else.

I am willing to pay a nominal fee to use Swift Run. I think a two-tier pay scheme that asks non-residents to pay a little more since they don't pay Ann Arbor taxes might also be reasonable. But I hope the city doesn't intend to ask us to shoulder the entire cost of Swift Run in addition to the money we are already paying for parks in taxes.