Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Task force recommends Sunnyside Park for off-leash dog park; Commissioner Stackhaus' eyebrows beg to differ

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 6:59 PM

click to enlarge Parks Board Commissioner Aggie Stackhaus
  • Parks Board Commissioner Aggie Stackhaus
Although Commissioner Aggie Stackhaus' facial expressions nearly stole the show, dogs were the focus of this afternoon's meeting of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation's Board of Commissioners.

Task force chairman Mel Solomon presented the Dog Park Task Force Advisory Committee's report, saying, "More dog parks will add significant viability to our parks system."  Among their findings: that a dog park should be installed at Sunnyside Park in Waldo.

The debate over this issue at Sunnyside Park is what sparked the creation of the task force in the first place, as detailed in this week's feature story. The task force's 15 members were appointed by the parks board commissioners in 2007 and first met in March 2008. Deb Hipp of WOOF (Well-Organized Off-leash Friends) says the report offers some vindication for her group of volunteers.

"We hope that the parks board will follow the recommendations of the task force that they formed," Hipp says. "We've always known that Sunnyside was the best location for a dog park in south Kansas City, and now the task force agrees."
(Hipp is a former Pitch staff writer.)

The meeting wasn't as exciting as several television reporters

probably anticipated

-- cameras nearly outnumbered the people testifying

for or against dog parks during the public comment period.

But Stackhaus, seated next to Parks

Board President John Fierro, made no secret of where her affections lay.

When a dog park opponent got up to speak, Stackhaus smiled and nodded approvingly.

When WOOF supporters took their turns at the lectern, Stackhaus busied herself by scribbling notes, puffing out her cheeks with audible sighs, exchanging meaningful glances with Fierro and aiming tortured expressions at the audience. Stackhaus comes with her own closed captioning. She is the parks board's Marcel Marceau.

In response to questions from Fierro and Commissioner Meghan Badwey Conger about the cost of installing dog parks, Solomon said that advocacy groups around the country had proven successful at raising their own funds. Even in a recession, people find money to spend on their pets, Solomon noted. He explained that a dog park needs only a few simple things: a fence with double gates, a shady area, access to water, waste receptacles and adequate parking.

People want dog parks near their homes "in concert with the walkable-city concept," Solomon said. The task force's conclusion that dog parks belong near neighborhoods is at odds with the board's 2007 policy, a hastily written rule that barred off-leash areas from being constructed anywhere besides the city's largest regional parks. (That 2007 policy was put on hold pending the task force's recommendations.)

The parking issue has long been a point of contention between WOOF's advocates, dog park opponents and the parks board. At today's meeting, Sonya Carter told the board that she represented "hundreds of people" in the Waldo neighborhood who own dogs but oppose the idea of an off-leash park at Sunnyside. Carter complained that the park suffers from a lack of parking because of a multitude of activities that take place there. But according to the report, such concerns were not convincing to the task force.

Solomon asked that the board identify parks that they approve for off-leash dog areas as quickly as possible so that advocacy groups like WOOF could begin raising money. Two dog parks should be opened by the end of 2009 to meet the public's demand. Solomon asked that the board appoint a Parks and Recreation staff person to act as a "dog park liaison" for the department, and to please keep the task force members in the loop. 

After the meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Mark McHenry said he expects the board and parks staff to take 30 days to review the task force's report before issuing their reactions. He advised that interested parties keep a close eye on upcoming commissioners' meeting agendas starting around August 18.

Then again, we could just listen for the whooshing sounds emitted from Stackhaus' energetic eyebrows.

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