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.

*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 ( 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


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 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.

*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.

PAC Meeting Tuesday

Tomorrow (Tuesday), the Ann Arbor Parks Advisory Commission will meet. This is a group including people from City Council, Parks and Recreation, and other interested parties. They manage Parks and Rec activities like purchasing, policies, etc. They are also the ones who make recommendations to city council regarding parks. Basically anything that happens regarding parks goes through them first, especially if it needs a vote in City Council.

The meeting packet for tomorrow (PDF) indicates that the Swift Run plan will be a subject of discussion. If you come out you can hear what's going on there, but it is also a chance to tell them what you are thinking.

At the beginning and end of the meeting, there is time for public commentary on any subject. Each speaker gets three minutes and just has to stand up and identify her or himself with no pre-registration or anything required. The commissioners don't necessarily respond, but they may and it is a good chance to let your voice be heard.

If you have time and nothing better to do, this is a good place to come and express your concerns over the never-ending delay in developing off-leash play areas. I will be there and would welcome any silent support just as much as other voices expressing our frustration. The time is not particularly convenient and meetings go quite long so you don't need to feel obligated to stay for the entire time.

If you can't make the meeting and you haven't already done so, consider e-mailing PAC ( as well as City Council and the Parks and Rec officials listed in the sidebar.

PAC Meeting
Tuesday, May 15
4:00 PM
City Council Chambers
2nd Floor City Hall

Friday, May 11, 2007

PROS Plan Tidbits

I've been picking through the Parks and Recreation Open Space Plan (PROS Plan PDF) and found a few interesting nuggets.

Page 194 - Lack of legal off-leash play areas is the primary source of dissatisfaction among Ann Arbor parks users
Those who are neutral to dissatisfied with the Parks & Recreation department are more likely to be exercising with their dog, tobogganing/sledding, and ice skating. The addition of a dog park and an outdoor ice rink/ice skating were the first and third most frequently suggested programs that should be offered by Parks and Recreation, by those who felt additional programs/services were necessary

On page 198 there is a histogram reporting "Leisure-Time/Recreational Activities Participated in Regularly by Adults" at the parks. Exercising with dogs scores 5% of respondents. This doesn't sound like a lot, but that is the same number of people who answered that they use the parks to play basketball or soccer or for cross-country skiing. Although there are no formal cross-country ski facilities that I am aware of, that is an activity that is legal in any of the parks when there is snow. As for basketball and soccer, there are facilities for these activities all over town including some very large complexes like the massive Fuller Park soccer complex. Further the large amounts of "unprogrammed space" in neighborhood parks provide ad hoc soccer opportunities. Yet facilities for exercising with dogs are completely nonexistent in the same city.

That same histogram is made more poignant on page 225 where the survey question that produced it is listed. The question asked basically "what do adults in your house do at parks" and lists a variety of answers. "Exercise with dog" is listed in bold indicating that it was "added to the list." I'm not precisely sure what this means, but it appears that it was a write-in candidate, not one of the options originally offered.

So all this means that without being prompted, people volunteered "exercise with dog" as frequently as people answered that they play basketball or soccer in the parks, answers that were originally on the list. This happened despite the fact that there are facilities for playing basketball and soccer legally all around the city and there are none for playing with dogs. How many more people would have answered "exercise with dog" if there were already a safe and legal place to do it?

I personally seldom use the city parks even though there is one right across the street and two within walking distance of my house. Instead I drive to Saline to use Mill Pond Park. So I wouldn't have answered "exercise with dog" on that survey. There is a huge unserved need for dog run facilities in this city.

Would soccer or basketball players be asked to go indefinitely without facilities? If all of the soccer fields in the city were suddenly unusable would the city hold years of meetings and study groups about how to proceed without ever taking action? Or would they provide a temporary solution very quickly until ideal facilities could be provided? Why are dog-owning taxpayers not provided services like other groups are?

ed note - Page numbers given here refer to the page of the PDF document, not necessarily the original document page numbers

A Much Higher Priority

Following up on the "Get Involved" post below...

Someone in the city wrote about a week and a half ago to let me know that our efforts are paying off. Apparently the city has begun to take notice and the dog run project is now on "a much higher priority" than it was just a couple of weeks ago.

This is great news and demonstrates the need to keep the profile of this issue as high as possible. For the most part the folks who can make this happen are not opposed to helping us. They just have a lot of other projects going on and need a little encouragement.

If the dog-owning community is silent and apathetic, the city will focus on other issues. If we say "10 years is long enough, it's time to produce results" in a unified voice, they will see the need and move to address it. If we can offer constructive input through e-mail, calls, and attendance at meetings they may even come up with new ideas to expedite things.

Keep up the good work all of you who are writing and calling!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How To Get Involved

A number of people have contacted me asking what they can do to help the cause of getting a safe and legal off-leash area in Ann Arbor. Here are a few ideas:

Contact the city. Contacts within the city have repeatedly told me that the best thing we can do is to be vocal. Let the mayor, City Council, and Parks Advisory Commission know that you want this service and you are frustrated that they are still dragging their feet. Tell them that you want them to take immediate action to provide a safe and legal off-leash play option. Be polite but firm and clear. Contact information for these people is in the "Contact Information" sidebar to the right.

Write a letter to the editor. Contact the Ann Arbor News and/or any other local publication. Write a letter expressing your frustration with the stalling by the city. You might note the clearly demonstrated need and the string of promises by the city that a solution is just around the corner. Just be clear and concise about your thoughts on the issue. You can send a letter using the online form at this link.

Attend a meeting. There is a schedule at the right. It includes Parks Advisory Commission meetings and meetings about dog run plans. Show up at one of these meetings and let the people there know that you are concerned about the continuing delay. This is an extremely effective way of getting the attention of the people who can make a difference. It also helps to show that supporters are the majority of residents and people opposed to facilities for dog owners are a noisy minority. You might also consider attending a City Council meeting if you have time. They allow public commentary for three minutes per speaker on any topic. Stand up and tell them that they are ignoring the needs of a large portion of the city's population.

Keep an eye open. Watch for news items, surveys, public announcements, etc that are relevant to our efforts. When you find them publicize them or pass them along to me ( and I will post them here.

Tell a friend. If you know other people who have dogs or who are just interested in this issue, ask them to take similar actions. You can also tell them about this blog and suggest that they check it out to get more information on the situation and how to help.

Watch this space. I will continue to provide information as I get it. In the near future we may also try to organize some more formal community action to get the city's attention. One thing we are considering is a day of "civil obedience" or a rally in cooperation with the Canine Social Club. It would be a fun place for dog owners to meet each other and also a chance to demonstrate that we are a large group that shouldn't be swept aside. Nothing has been planned yet, but it is a possibility.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

1998 Dog Park Task Force Report.

You'll recall from a post earlier this week that the city formed a task force almost a decade ago to research and make recommendations on the issue of off-leash play in parks.

That task force produced a report in 1998 including community survey data, ideas, and recommendations for implementing a dog park or off-leash play area.

With some help, I've found that document (large PDF). It's an interesting read, particularly considering that it is about nine years old now.


A quick correction:

The "Upcoming Events" bar at the right had previously listed the next PAC meeting as Thursday May 15. It should be Tuesday May 15. It has been corrected in the sidebar now.

Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who let me know!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Second Ward Park Planning Meeting Scheduled

The second meeting (PDF) to discuss the proposal for an off-leash area at Ward Park has been scheduled.

Tuesday May 29, 2007
Ann Arbor Church of Christ
2500 S Main Street

The meeting is intended to cover more details of a proposed run at this site. If successful, it will serve as the Pilot for the community dog run program.

If you are interested in seeing this proposal become a reality, this is your chance to have productive input.

If you want the city to realize any of its dog run plans, this is a good chance to make your voice heard.

At the last community meeting there was a very small but very vocal group of people who were opposed to the plan, some of whom were opposed to the idea of off-leash play areas altogether. A strong showing from people in favor of these plans will demonstrate that we are a significant and active segment of the park-using community. We also need to make our presence known to demand that action be taken quickly and the foot-dragging end. If it looks like the dog-owning community is apathetic, it is unlikely that we will have a safe and legal play area this summer.

If you can't make the meeting, consider contacting Amy Kuras (information on flyer linked above) to let her know your thoughts.

Canine Social Club Web Page

It's back up and running.

The CSC has a formal relationship with the city and they have collaborated in the planning process that got us this far. So watch that site for new information and developments.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Long Time A-Coming

Just in case you're curious about how long Ann Arbor has been dragging its feet on the dog park issue, here is a selection from a city council meeting of almost 10 years ago:

October 20, 1997 (PDF) -
Councilmember Vereen-Dixon reported that the Parks Advisory Commission is proposing a Dog/Park Committee, and will submit a report to Council in February.

Parking Thoughts and Another Proposal

In going over the various plans for neighborhood dog parks and discussing possible temporary solutions, we have discussed the parking issue extensively. How the city considers any of their proposed neighborhood sites to have adequate parking has been a real head-scratcher.

Given their track record, it is tempting to believe that they are deliberately choosing sites with too little parking because 1) they know that they will never be approved and they won't have to move on to the next step, 2) they don't actually want to provide a facility that can be used effectively, or 3) the people doing the planning have never been to a dog park and don't have any idea what's going to happen there.

Although I'm sure foot-dragging and unfamiliarity have some influence, I actually think there is a different reason. As near as I can tell, the Ward Park plan is supposed to be a pilot for a bigger system. Eventually, if I'm understanding correctly, Ann Arbor is envisioned to have Swift Run as a major city/regional node as well as small neighborhood off-leash areas like Ward Park scattered throughout the city. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

In that situation, the neighborhood parks wouldn't need much parking. A half-dozen spaces would be more than enough as most people using them could walk and the great bulk of people driving to a dog park would go to the larger Swift Run facility. Thus the curb space at Ward Park and the small parking lot at South maple are considered "adequate parking."

Unfortunately, those places do not have adequate parking to serve as the temporary city-wide solution while Swift Run remains in bureaucratic limbo. Even the temporary solution I offered last week is really no good in light of the parking problem.

I still think a temporary fence somewhere is an ideal solution both for dog owners and for the city who wants to see a park in practice before opening it's flagship park.

So instead of Ward or South Maple, why not consider something that already has ample parking? There are a number of parks that fit the bill - Buhr and West Parks spring to mind. However, I don't think those are realistic because of the long community meeting process that would no doubt be involved.

Instead I'd suggest the Southeast Area Park, although it is very inconvenient for most Ann Arbor residents, right across the street from Swift Run at Platte and Ellsworth. The advantage of this otherwise inconvenient location is that it is in the same neighborhood as Swift Run so presumably the public meeting process doesn't need to be repeated. Also, unlike Ward Park there are almost no neighbors immediately next to the park. There are some very large parking lots already at Southeast including a gravel lot that seems to be blocked off most of the time but could serve as overflow. It also has some large unused areas including a mowed area along the west edge. I've marked these in yellow in the map on the right.

A temporary fence, a sign, and a trash can is all it would take to provide an off-leash area here. It is a very imperfect plan, especially given the distance from most of Ann Arbor's population, but at least it's something.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Ann Arbor Voices

Christina, who some of you know, had an op/ed published yesterday in the Ann Arbor News "Voices" section. If you missed it in print, you can read it here.

She addresses quite well some of the more rational concerns that dog park opponents have. She also invites concerned residents to visit a dog park and see first hand what one looks like. I know some people will never be swayed - some just don't like dogs, others don't like dog owners, and some simply don't want anything new in their neighborhoods. But a visit to Saline's Mill Pond Park should end any visions of canine Thunderdome for those who just don't know what to expect.

The online version doesn't include the picture of Christina, Charlie, and Sadie so I've posted it at the right.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


I'm visiting family now and only have access to dial-up internet. I can't be tying up their phone lines all the time so there won't be any more posts here until I get back to A^2 this weekend. I have lots of thoughts and some ideas I'd like to post so I'm looking forward to that.

In the mean time, watch for an editorial in the Ann Arbor News "Voices" section by one of our local residents who has had enough with the foot-dragging by the city and image-bashing by non-dog residents.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Parking Issues

As has been demonstrated in my "Modest Proposal" post, the parking situation at South Maple is quite bad. It's actually worse than that at Ward Park. I wonder how it was chosen to be the first pilot for a neighborhood dog parks program given the parking limitations. Maybe the city's idea of adequate parking is more limited than ours.

At the Ward Park meeting there was very brief discussion about creating a temporary gravel lot somewhere on the site. Maybe this is a possibility that was being considered for South Maple as well. Unlike Ward Park, a temporary lot could probably be created at South Maple.

If South Maple is not a suitable temporary site, though, there should be somewhere else in town. In comments, Ness suggested Turnberry Park, which I am not familiar with yet. I have elsewhere suggested West Park due to its size, location, and available street parking. There are dozens of other possibilities on the 2,000 acres of park land the city maintains. Esch Park has an open area and lots of neighborhood parking. Greenview is huge and undeveloped, but I understand that there are plans for it. Beckley Park is not very central, but it has a nice big lawn and lots of parking. Buhr is enormous and has plenty of open spaces to offer us one and still leave ample room for picnicking, kite-flying, sun-bathing, etc.

There are adequate spaces all over town, I won't try to name them all or pretend to know all of the parks and the potential drawbacks. The point is that this temporary solution idea ought to be something that can be implemented within the next 30 days in a way that makes (almost) everyone happy.