A few weeks after we approved the Development Permit for the Wadams Farm subdivision that will include a small public dog park (see pg. 14) upon its completion in (guesstimate) 2024, council will tonight determine whether we're going ahead immediately with a staff recommendation for another fenced dog mecca -- this one double the size (90 x 25 sq. meters, which is approx. one-and-a-half hockey rinks long, one rink wide) in the Ponds Park corridor a short leash-tugging stroll west of Church Road (where a dozen angled parking spaces will be added).
Talk of a fenced dog park or run locally dates back at least to the John Phillips Memorial Park study of 2006 (see pg. 7 to 23; the recommendation was for a meadow dog run on the slope leading to Wadams Way, which might conceivably remain possible even given the Sooke Lions Centre proposal.)
Since then, committees have called for formal public consultation, councils have discussed options and, in 2013, a dog-owner lobby group gathered 457 signatures in favour of a fenced area in Ponds Park or JPMP itself (the latter ruled out by council of the day because of seasonal groundwater problems well known to golfers and off-trail walkers). (Details on the back-story below.)
The current council included item 2.3.5 in our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan ~ “Identify location(s) and establishment of dog park(s).” The how, why and where of it was to be investigated in the larger context of the updated Parks & Trails Master Plan, adopted in October, 2020. (All its dog management references are neatly captured in this press release.)
Parks Master Plan action item 6.19 (pg. 55) states: "Establish dog off-leash areas within a 15-minute walk of all residents: i) Establish two larger dog off-leash areas, one north of the highway and one south, eg. in the Ponds Park corridor and at a future beach access; ii) incorporate smaller dog off-leash areas within existing and proposed community and neighbourhood parks per the spacing above; and iii) Designate trails where dogs are allowed off-leash."
Previous discussions had always recommended further public consultation. With our long-awaited Communications Coordinator in place, it happened during a COVID year when in-person hearings were impossible. The consultation was predicated on certain assumptions: Ponds Park had been identified as the best possible location for the north-of-Sooke-Road dog park; and alternate options in JPMP were challenging and costly due to drainage issues. We as a community were being asked to identify amenities (and recognize their pricetags) with the end goal of ensuring a best-possible experience for owners, their furry companions and the neighbouring community.
Read the results yourself on the District's Let's Talk Sooke website, in particular this summary document presented at the July 19 Committee of the Whole. The 48 (of 100) survey respondents who took the time to write comments shared pro/con sentiments about the location: "40% (19/48) express strong support for a fenced dog park at Pond’s Park Corridor; 15% (7/48) express opposition for a fenced dog park at Pond’s Park Corridor; 13% (6/48) ask for enforcement of hours of operation and dog behaviour."
Not unexpectedly, opposition has come from many near neighbours (if by no means all; I chatted with two in-favour couples on Saturday who live within 100 meters) who fear the worst -- barking dogs, traffic issues in Acreman Place, negative impacts to home values and the loss of relative peace and quiet. (An early June petition netted 68 signatures against from 46 area households. One irony: the manufactured home park due south of Ponds Park does not allow dogs. You'll find several letters against in tonight's council agenda -- pp. 205-207 -- as well as this recent Sooke PocketNews letter.)
At last week's COW meeting, six of us voted in favour of "authorizing construction of a fenced dog park at 2276 Church Road." I voted against on the grounds that this kind of impactful, rather controversial decision would best be decided when council chambers are again fully open to the public -- likely starting with our meeting of Sept. 20. I imagine one of those exciting (to me, at least) full-house occasions when the tides of passion run strong and everyone has the right and opportunity to bark as loudly as they like (2 minutes maximum) in favour or against. E-feedback is fantastically useful, of course, but not everyone is wired for the 21st century and there is that truth about body language and vocal tone representing 85% of communication.
I'll likely say exactly this tonight and ask that we postpone the decision until we can invite the public back into chambers. It would give opponents the right to share their concerns in person. And it would allow proponents from elsewhere in Sooke to rally and express their support. (One missing link in the discussion so far has been the widely recognized best-practice dog-park partnership of local governments with a community group-- a 'Friends of the Dog Park' pet-owning collective of some kind that would take its share of responsibility for managing, cleaning, operating and raising funds for future phased development of park amenities such as a separate fenced area for small dogs.)
A pause (still my favourite word in a world that is spinning way too fast by my increasingly antiquated standards) would give us all time to further chew over this already mangled but clearly still flavourful bone. There are remarkably few fenced dog parks in the CRD, but how are other municipalities managing those they do operate? The City of Victoria's Paws In Parks program shows the way. As for the tricky business of siting future dog parks, we could learn from Saanich, which this summer is experimenting with "pop-up dog parks" in five locations to allow residents a chance to experience them in real time before any final decisions are made.
What do existing best-practice documents have to offer such as this one from the US Trust for Public Land or this guide to designing and managing dog parks via the National Recreation and Park Association? Dog owners also have their share of reasons to enjoy and equally be wary of dog parks (as documented here and in this New York Times article shared by one of our recent thumbs-down correspondents.)
Personally speaking, we Batemans are cat people and have not been around dogs regularly since our childhoods (long-haired dachshunds Rufus, Remus & Nicki + a Yorkshire terrier named Kimbo for me; shelties Raider and Dawn for Carolyn). But we appreciate them as wonderful sentient beings and engage in as much interspecies communication on the Spit and elsewhere as their owners allow.
We also embarked on a delightful visit two weekends ago to the Vic West Dog Park. We lingered at the edge of this small, gravel-based park and watched the romparound antics by the assembled pack -- perhaps a dozen dogs of all sizes, including a Burmese mountain dog and her puppy, several lean hounds at full sprint (running in looped circles around and across a big exposed rock) and one nervous but game rescue dog who'd been relocated from a Texas kill shelter and become the beloved companion of a man living in nearby Dockside Green. When dogs pooped, watchful and responsible owners promptly scooped. Apart from a couple of yelps and a few barks of hello, it was an idyllic and happy scene -- dogs and owners alike enjoying the socialization time.
Whatever unfolds, here's the no-matter-what guarantee: Every dog will have its day.
Bonus extras ...
i) Except from the Wadams Farm development permit
"Public Dog Park: A 1086 m2 public park is proposed at the corner of Wadams Way and Church Road. As detailed in sections L1.05, L3.05 and L5.01 on the landscape plans, the features of the dog park include salvaged cedar or rot-resistant logs for dog play and slope retention, center located concrete stairs with center located handrails to facilitate access to sloped areas and enable pet clean-up, pedestrian bollard solar lighting along the public pathway , bicycle racks, one standard parking space designated for park maintenance vehicle with signage, park signage and "petiquette" signs, water service with water fountain (dog/human/bottle filler), two benches along the public pathway and three benches within the dog park, bear-resistant waste bins and dog bag dispensers. A black chain link fence will surround the dog park with a double gate for dog park safety and a second access gate is provided for service maintenance. Cedar split rail fencing will surround all rain garden areas and wetland habitat."
ii) View Pointe Estates
A tiny chunk of land (2,100 sq. feet) for a suggested dog park was donated to the District by View Pointe Estates in 2017. It is a miniscule portion (perhaps better suited as a viewpoint) of the 32% of this sprawling 137-home development dedicated for parkland, a trail system and easy legal access for us all to the gob-smackingly spectacular panoramas.
iii) Excerpt from Guidelines for Successful Off-Leash Dog Areas by the University of California's Centre for Animals In Society
"If asked about the three things that influence how well an off-leash dog park works, one could answer maintenance, maintenance, and maintenance. This is a factor that proved to significantly correlate with ranking of park success, regardless of park size or whether dog-exclusive or multiple-use. The bottom line is that before establishing on an off-leash park, the community must plan ahead and commit resources for maintenance. The monetary costs and time for maintenance should be budgeted and taken into consideration prior to approval of the park. The factors that are part of maintenance include, but are not limited to, are: frequency of emptying refuse cans; re-supplying disposable plastic pick up bags; replacing or fixing broken, bent, or weathered signs displaying rules; filling holes dug by dogs; irrigation and maintenance of vegetation and turf; repairing fencing. Maintenance also includes cleaning restrooms and other park user amenities, such as benches. One perspective is that, as in reducing the occurrence of graffiti in urban areas by promptly removing graffiti, promptly removing fecal droppings encourages people to follow the rules about cleanliness. The following are our recommendations:
1. Plan and budget for appropriate maintenance and a cleaning schedule, which includes adequate sanitation procedures, filling of holes that are dug by dogs, proper maintenance of the substrate, and proper maintenance of fencing and amenities.
2. It is suggested that an active dog park club help advise the municipality as to the needed resources to maintain the park, and to help monitor their condition. However, do not rely on the club to handle the required maintenance.
iv) My Facebook post from July 12, 2020
"Sharing this amusing Portlandia sketch while preparing for tomorrow night’s latest in a nearly 15-year series of discussions of an off-leash dog park in John Phillips Memorial Park.
I’ve done a little homework: In Sept. 2012, the District’s Land Use and Environment Committee of the day recommended a public consultation take place for a JPMP dog park (as originally identified in the park’s 2006 masterplan). The committee also noted its concerns about drainage issues on the old golf course and potential conflicts with other park users.
After It’s Over Rover’s Jacklyn Orza rounded up 457 signatures in favour of a dog park in early 2013, council asked staff to look at the feasibility of the nearby Ponds Park corridor. A basic fenced area along the corridor near Church (I believe) would have cost $14k; seemingly essential amenities like lighting, a water supply for thirsty dogs and benches for their owners added another $11k. For reasons I’m not clear about, this scheme died on the books.
In Oct., 2016, the then-extant Parks & Trails Advisory Committee recommended that council “develop a public consultation plan for an off-leash dog park.” At its meeting a month later, the committee heard from one speaker that JPMP and an area near Sunriver Nature Trail Park were the best candidates for a dog park or two. Another resident quoted in the minutes wanted to see a park in the heart of the town centre (mentioning the Horne/Goodmere Rd. area, and perhaps meaning the underutilized Lions Park on Murray Rd.).
Conflicting views were also expressed about Whiffin Spit, which to this day is designated dogs off-leash/under effective control. One speaker noted that off-leash here was essential given the lack of a dog park in town. Another conversely noted the Spit should be on-leash exclusively to curb conflicts with dog-shy walkers and to protect the eel grass habitat (aka migratory bird stopover refuges).
As in 2012, however, I don’t believe a public consultation plan was ever initiated.
Fast forward to 2019, and the new Council’s Strategic Plan included item 2.3.5 ~ “Identify location(s) and establishment of dog park(s).”
The draft 2020 Parks & Trails Masterplan released last month identified (pg. 52) that dogs are as increasingly popular with boomers and millennials in Sooke as they are across North America. The tail count in town now tops 2500 loyal, adorable, beloved canines of all shapes and sizes. Their needs for romp-around socialization opportunities in an enclosed space must sooner rather than later be addressed here as in so many other communities.
The PTMP states that Sooke requires the following:
1. “An on-leash bylaw to prevent dog issues throughout the District.”
2. “Designated dog off-leash areas.”
3. “Dog management is needed on Whiffin Spit in particular.”
4. “More bylaw control of dogs and consideration of dog
waste management within sold waste management planning.”
5. “Designated off-leash and on-leash trails.”
Now a group from the Sooke Community Association has approached the District with an offer to build and maintain a fenced dog park in JPMP. On the map in our agenda package, the proposed location appears to be due east of the duck pond where two trails converge. As I recall from winter rambles, this portion of the old golf course gets pretty swampy, so it may not be the best location.
As Mayor Milne was quoted as saying in 2013, the park needs to be fairly central and in a “high and dry location” – hence the preference for the Ponds Park corridor back then. The 2006 JPMP masterplan (created by a citizen's committee after the golf course covenant was controversially shredded and the land split into two while creating our town's beautiful central park and a still undeveloped parcel for housing) suggests a "meadow dog run" be located on the hillside leading up to Waddams Way.
Anyway, it’s good the issue has arisen again. As a preview, a gorgeous Newfoundlander named Eve, owned by a military family newly relocated to Sooke, romped over at the end of yoga in the park this morning and greeted us all one by one. Most of us were delighted by this sweet, gentle giant of a dog. One of our number might well have been wary due to possible past experience with less friendly dogs, however, and this theoretical person also has rights to the quiet, safe enjoyment of the park as much as the rest of us.
So it’s a complicated matter (what isn’t?), and I look forward to seeing how the council pack addresses it tomorrow night -- likely by agreeing to the staff recommendation that a public engagement plan and funding options be developed for further consideration."
Pictured: My late mum and dad's beloved and final daschund, Tessa D'Iberville.