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.

- 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.

- 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 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.

- 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


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 ( 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

- 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).