AMHERST – A decision by Amherst’s town council to convert one of fields at the Robb Centennial Complex is not sitting well with those who use them.
Council voted 4-3 at its regular monthly meeting Monday to proceed with a pilot project that will see the Lion Cecil Small Field converted to an off-leash dog park for the 2018 summer season.
“I just found out a couple of days ago that this was even being considered. I feel as though the wool was pulled over our eyes,” said Luke Crocker, who operates the Amherst Men’s Slo-Pitch League.
Crocker said he was given no indication the field was being considered for the dog park, adding he never thought of attending the public meetings because he figured they were geared toward dog owners and had nothing to do with softball.
He’s frustrated that there was no consultation with user groups such as the slo-pitch and baseball leagues that use the complex.
Crocker and several other ball supporters attempted to address the meeting but were told by Mayor David Kogon that they could not speak at the meeting. He did say council would meet with the group at a later date, something Crocker said he will set up.
“We’ll get a group together to talk to the council. It was disappointing that we weren’t permitted to speak tonight but we’ll get a letter together and go from there,” Crocker said. “There is no way we can operate on just one field next summer.”
The mayor, Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie and councilors Jason Blanch and Darrell Jones voted in favour of the motion while councilors Wayne ‘Butch’ MacKenzie, Terry Rhindress and Vince Byrne opposed it.
“The topic of a dog park has been with this council from the beginning, it’s something that was brought to different members of council while they were campaigning that there was lots of interest in the community for a dog park,” Coun. Blanch said, adding there were three public workshops on the issue. “It’s important for the public to know this is a pilot project. We want to try a dog park for a year and find out if there really is the interest we’ve been led to believe there is. We don’t want to spend the more than $20,000 developing a dog park. We want to first take advantage of any existing property that would work.”
Coun. Rhindress said it’s not the right spot for a dog park.
“We’ve already lost some fields in recent years. Sure, there aren’t as many playing ball right now, but hopefully it’ll come back,” Rhindress said.
Recreation director Bill Schurman said the Cecil Small field was targeted because it hasn’t been used very much in recent years. The field was used for approximately 200 hours this past ball season.
“It’s the least used of the three fields at the complex,” Schurman said. ”It’s just not used as much as we’d like it to be used.”
The situation, he said, was influenced by the fact residents in the area have contacted council with concerns about balls going over the netting and the cost of replacing that netting.
He said the pilot project would be used to gauge support for a permanent dog park. He also stressed the field could be quickly converted back to a ballfield should the need arise, such as a baseball or softball tournament.
Crocker said the town’s numbers aren’t entirely accurate saying that users could not access to the fields in May or September because recreation staff were busy at the Amherst Stadium.
Terry ‘Mouser’ McManaman said the complex was opened as a softball facility in 1989 as a centennial project. He said successive town councils have allowed the fields to fall into disrepair.
“I’ve been involved in youth sports for a long time and I don’t feel they did their homework on this,” McManaman said. “In Truro they have a dog park and children aren’t allowed to go it. At Robbs, a lot of the guys who play ball bring their kids with them. What happens if a dog gets out of the park and bites one of them, who’s liable? Does the town have insurance for this? Who’s going to be responsible if there’s dog fight, is town staff going to be expected to get in the middle?”
McManaman said the town just spent a lot of money fixing up Dickey Park, while the former Northern Telecom park in the West Highlands are should have been considered as well since there are already three fences there access to water.
During last week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, Schurman said the dog park would be fenced off from the rest of the complex and would have its own entrance, separate from the ball fields.