AMHERST – Amherst has stepped back from a one-year pilot project that would’ve seen a ball field at the Robb Centennial Complex converted to an off-leash dog park.
The pilot project is going forward but will wrap it up in April before the start of ball season.
“It’s a compromise we believe will give the town the time to gauge the need for a dog park, without affecting the usage of the field during the summer months,” Mayor David Kogon said Tuesday. “We’re going to shorten the pilot (project) so there is no concern from our softball and baseball users about it taking away from their utilization of the field.”
Town officials are also going to meet with representatives from the slo-pitch league as well as from bantam and midget baseball to discuss the utilization of the Robb complex moving forward.
Kogon said it became apparent at Monday’s council meeting that users felt their voice hadn’t been heard, even though there had been three workshops on a proposed dog park and it had been included in the recreation master plan from 2015.
“They didn't realize that one of the Robb’s fields was a potential site for the dog pilot and when we realized this was creating angst we decided to get the pilot project separated from any potential interference with the ballfields during ball season,” Kogon said
The mayor said the town doesn’t want the situation at the Robb complex to become a baseball-softball versus dog park situation.
“The users of the complex need to have their needs met but so do the people who came to council about the need for an off-leash dog park,” Kogon said. “It shouldn’t be either one or the other. We need to separate the issue.”
The decision to approve the pilot project came a week after council heard a presentation from recreation director Bill Schurman at its Nov. 20 committee of the whole meeting.
In his presentation, Schurman reminded council that it had asked staff to conduct a feasibility study into an off-leash dog park in December 2016 and followed that request in September 2017 by asking them to investigate what needed to be done to use one of the ball fields at the Robb complex for a pilot project.
In preparing its report, staff held two public workshops in August and one in September to gauge public opinion.
While only 36 people attended those workshops, the majority favoured the Robb complex as the site for a dog park.
Staff have also examined a field at the Robb complex and noted some work would have to be done to use it as a dog park, such as repairing the existing fence, creating a safe entrance to the field where dogs can be unleashed safely and installing regulatory signs, waste receptacles, a portable washroom for humans and seasonal watering stations.
There is no plan to provide watering stations during the winter.
The report estimated the cost of turning the ball field into an off-leash dog park would be about $3,900, including $1,000 to build the entrance and $1,500 to repair the fence. It estimated the work would take about two weeks to complete.
It was also noted that creating an off-leash dog park pilot project in another location would cost about $20,000 for fencing alone.
Noting that council had budgeted $25,000 for the park, Schurman said spending $3,900 on the pilot would be a prudent way to gauge public demand for an off-leash dog park.
“This location provides a relatively low-cost, reversible opportunity to better determine if how and where such a facility might be provided on a more permanent basis,” he added.
Schurman also recommended that community engagement should continue while the pilot project is being operated.