The Spokane Park Board will be asked Monday to designate 7.5 acres of upper Lincoln Park as the city’s next official dog park.
That location was the most favored among three put before residents of three neighborhoods on the South Hill over the past month. But some are still concerned that fencing an area of the park and providing additional amenities, including parking and water, will disturb the natural habitat in the sprawling park just off Southeast Boulevard.
“I’m not going to speak for my other Park Board members,” said Jennifer Ogden, president of the panel, on Friday. “But I’m struggling with this.”
Park officials have held four open houses over the past two weeks, asking visitors to rank their choices among the site in Lincoln Park, an area of Underhill Park and a stormwater treatment facility known as Hazel’s Creek near Ferris High School. They gathered more than 170 pages of public testimony to put before the Park Board, which will have the final say where the new park is located.
Garrett Jones, director of Spokane Parks, said the level of public input – some of it passionate against a particular site – has been helpful.
“We’re here to listen,” Jones said.
Many of the comments dealt with the two sites that did not receive the Parks Department’s endorsement. Hazel’s Creek, Southgate neighborhood residents said, has wetland protections that would make constructing a dog park difficult. Those living around Underhill Park said places for dogs to play would displace play areas for children and continue a trend of imposing uses on land in the East Central neighborhood, which was bifurcated by the construction of the interstate decades ago.
While the Lincoln Park site was forwarded by park officials, it wasn’t without detractors during the public comment period. Letter writers expressed concern about the loss of a natural habitat for wildflowers, grasses, birds and stargazing on the undeveloped 40 acres that, prior to the mid-1980s and closure of the existing roads on the site, was a hot spot for teenage mischief and the dumping of trash.
Lincoln Park was established in 1912, and was one of the original sites suggested as a neighborhood park in the 1908 Olmsted brothers report laying out a plan for the city’s future park system.
Jones said concern about the loss of habitat at Lincoln Park was valid. Some residents expressed surprise that the natural area in the park wasn’t already protected from development. Design of a new dog park could spark discussion about protecting the other undeveloped acreage in the upper park, Jones said.
“We’d be looking into the future, are there ways to appropriately, permanently preserve these other natural areas?” Jones said.
Though a design was shown to open house visitors, such plans aren’t finalized and could be revised once a site is selected, Jones said.
Park planners are pushing for a selection to meet a timeline outlined in a memorandum of understanding with Spokane Public Schools. That agreement was signed after the construction of the new Carla Peperzak Middle School displaced an existing, unofficial dog park, and the city committed to building a replacement. Spokane Public Schools agreed to pay for design and construction of a new, official South Hill dog park, and the agreement calls for the project to be finished by April.
Jones said finding the correct location is the priority, however.
“We still need to have the best site possible,” he said.
Ogden applauded park officials for collecting the feedback that board members must now wade through. She said it’s possible the board could look at the recommendation and request more time for answers to questions about the effect on habitat and other issues.
“I don’t think there’s any magic between the end of October, and early November,” Ogden said. “If my park board members want it, I think that’s reasonable. We need to have a decision that people can live with.”
Many members of the public urged the park board to completely start over the process and consider partnering with the county for additional land outside of city limits. Jones said those discussions have occurred, and will be presented to the Park Board on Monday.
Jones also said he could foresee the Park Board pausing the process, but would want members to provide his staff with steps to come to a resolution.
“To pause, just to pause, I don’t think is beneficial,” Jones said. “If there were to be a pause, we would want to have some actionable steps.”
Ogden said board members have a lot of information to go through. Included in that information is the fact that 27% – more than one in four of those who attended the dog park open houses – opposed each of the three choices forwarded by park staff.
“This is one of the hardest decisions we have to make,” Ogden said.
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