City of Lincoln continues discussion on proposed dog park

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[October 13, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday evening, six of eight Lincoln aldermen were present for the first Committee of the Whole for the month of October. Todd Mourning and Kathy Horn were absent for the evening.

The evening began with a continuation of discussions about creating an off-leash dog park at the city-owned property known as Apex @ City Center. Brittney McLaughlin, the spokesperson for the Central Bark Dog Park Committee, began by addressing some of the questions that had arisen at the September 27th Committee of the Whole.

McLaughlin said she had spent the last two weeks trying to find the answers to some of the questions posed by aldermen. She had some success, but some of the questions asked, she was still searching out the answers.

She said that the committee would be changing the name of their project and the park to Central Bark @ City Center. She said this was based on feedback received that many did not want the Apex @ City Center to go away completely, so the committee had decided to incorporate the two names into one.

She said that the aldermen had asked how many dogs lived in Lincoln. She had contacted Animal Control to see if they could tell her. She said they would be able to give her a number based on the number of tags they issue annually, but at this time, they are transitioning some of their record keeping to the computer, and could not pull up the information when she had contacted them.


Another question from the 27th was about the membership of dogs at the dog parks in Decatur that had served as a model for the committee in creating their proposals. She had contacted Decatur and was told the two paid membership parks in the city have a total of 150 to 200 members. She noted, there are other parks in Decatur that do not charge a fee for membership.

McLaughlin had also been asked what the ideal size for a dog park. She said that of the two paid membership parks in Decatur, one is two acres and the other is three acres. She said that two to three acres would be ideal. The current proposal calls for three acres of the Apex to be converted to the dog park. However, she noted that the three acres included setting the fence in from the outside parameter, so there was space for walkways around the outside of the fenced area.

In looking response to construction costs, McLaughlin had turned again to Decatur for assistance. She said Decatur has Fido Fields and Nelson Park. At Fido, the investment had been concrete for sidewalks and around the watering areas, fencing, and plumbing only, and had come to about $30,000. She said that would be a conservative number because Decatur had provided its own labor for all the work, whereas Lincoln may not be able to do that.

At Nelson Park the total cost had come to about $88,000, again with concrete and plumbing, plus the key card entry system, and two pavilions, one of which was actually built in Fido Fields.

McLaughlin noted that in her presentation on the 27th she had said the membership would allow up to five dogs per owner. However, she had since learned that there was an ordinance pertaining to pet ownership that limited that number to four, therefore the committee had changed their membership rule, reducing the total number to four as well.

Moving on, McLaughlin said the group has set up a social media page and have collected comments about news articles in local media, as well as comments on the media page.

In general, she said the community is very supportive of the dog park proposal. But there are a few concerns. She noted that some had commented they were concerned about denying public access to city-owned green space. Others were for the dog park, but hesitant to give up on the Apex @ City Center concept. She said comments had been received that the property should have features of the proposed Apex incorporated into the overall design.

Other issues were concerns for animal waste being left in the grass, and concerns about ill-tempered dogs.

McLaughlin said that dog owners would be made responsible for collecting and disposing of waste, and she felt the membership agreement addressed the issues of ill-tempered dogs.

McLauhglin said that through their social media page, the group had conducted a survey to measure the approval rating on the proposal and it came back that 67 percent of the respondents were in favor of a dog park. McLaughlin was later asked the number of responses included in that percentage. She said that the poll was taken by 70 people.

McLaughlin said she had also talked with Decatur about insurance, and learned that the dog parks are covered under the city umbrella and that there were no additional riders or coverages that had to be purchased. She also noted that the membership agreement makes it clear that the city will not be held liable.

Mayor Marty Neitzel wondered if that were the case, or would there have to be a special exclusion written for animals. City Administrator Clay Johnson said he did not believe there would need to be an exclusion.

McLaughlin moved on, saying that what the committee needed from the city in order to move on was the designated land use and an allocation of funds for the design work. She said that additionally, the committee wanted to remain involved in the development of the park, they did not want to just turn the project over to the city and walk away.

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Aldermanic discussion

Tracy Welch asked about the proposed use of three acres of the Apex land, wondering if the dog park could be reduced somewhat in size to allow for a portion of the Apex plan to be incorporated. He said that the work had been done for the Apex design, and he would like to see that come about someday. Though when the design was completed, the cost for everything in it was more than the city could afford, Welch said there might be a time, when the city could pay for at least a portion of the design.

McLaughlin said, yes, the committee could look at reducing the size of the dog areas somewhat. However, she also noted that in the drawings she presented on the 27th, it showed that there was already a portion of the space designated for public use. She noted that the separation of small and large dogs is not required, but it is highly recommended.

Michelle Bauer said she had talked to several people about the proposal and she had heard the full gambit of responses. Folks had said everything from “yes, we want it” to “no, we don’t.” Some are concerned that a city-owned public space will now become a paid membership only space, and feel it is contradictory to what the city should be doing with its green spaces.

Bauer said she fully supported the idea of a dog park, but she is not excited about the proposed location. She noted there is one park near Northwest School that has practically no amenities and is not used hardly at all. It is about 1.5 acres. She said that could be a location for Central Bark.

McLaughlin commented, “I’m married to the Apex, but if it is a deal breaker we’re (the committee) open to other locations.” She also commented that if the city wanted to do free memberships she was open to that also. She said membership and key cards should still be required as a safety precaution. Charging membership fees would help offset costs, but that was at the discretion of the city.

Bauer had also asked what the true role of the city was in this project, and what could they do to keep it moving. McLaughlin said the committee was asking for a commitment for the location, and asking for money to pay for the design of the park. She said the committee was not asking the city to pay for the construction of the park. She noted that there are already ideas for fundraising in the works, and the committee would be looking for larger donors, as well as grants. She concluded that the committee does not want to spend its money on the design, they would rather put their financial efforts into the construction of the park.

McLaughlin wondered if the city would foot the cost of a generic design that could be dropped into any location. She said that would keep them moving forward if they could go ahead and get that part started.

Johnson said it wasn’t that simple. The design will need to take into consideration, for example, the location of utilities such as water and electric, and what it would take to incorporate the utilities into the design.

Welch asked if the city could inventory available spaces and see what is available that would work for the park.

Johnson said they certainly could. Bauer suggested that the city could keep the project moving by having Farnsworth do that inventory and make some recommendations.

Bauer said she didn’t want to see this project dropped, but she also didn’t want to do all this work then find out they couldn’t afford to finish it. Johnson said that Farnsworth could do a scope of work type proposal, which would tell the city what it was going to cost to do the design work.

McLaughlin reminded the aldermen that the committee is not asking for dollars for construction. She added that they are also not looking to create a “Cadillac” park, it could be minimal, especially to start.

Bauer then asked if they would be alright with doing the work in phases as money permitted; to which McLaughlin said they would, and added that all they have to have to get started is a fence.

As comments and questions died down, the council prepared to move on to the next topic.

Earlier in the discussion, Neitzel said that the council still had work to do before making any decisions. She noted that the aldermen would want time to talk to their constituents as well as time to discuss this further in another Committee of the Whole. She said it would be best not to put anything on the agenda for voting yet. By a nod of the head, the aldermen agreed.

[Nila Smith]

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