- The Town of East Hampton has proposed sectioning off a portion of Springs Park exclusively for dogs. Half of the 22-acre park would be devoted to letting canines and their owners run free in a cordoned-off dog park. Members of the Springs community who have been using the entire park along with their pets for years attended the Sept. 16 Town Board work session at the Springs Firehouse to protest the proposal.
"We have had a person knocked over by a dog and a town employee bitten," East Hampton Town Supervisor William McGintee explained to the earnest audience, "We have to deal with this."
Scott Wilson, East Hampton's director of land acquisitions, presented a plan to fence in the rear 11 acres to allow for unleashed dogs without disrupting other park users. The Springs Park was acquired using the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), a two percent real estate transfer tax dedicated to buying open space, which attaches strict use requirements on properties purchased with public money. "CPF law says that this park and any other property has to be as inclusive as possible," Wilson explained, "It can't be exclusive to any specific user group."
A plan to fence in the rear 11 acres to allow for unleashed dogs without disrupting
other park users is being considered by the town board.
The front half of the park, stretching from the entrance on Three Mile Highway across the first 11 acres, would remain undeveloped as an open space park, save for re-cutting a single trail that runs through the center of the park, Wilson suggested. While the dog park is reserved for owners who want to let their pets exercise and play with other dogs, the open space portion of the park would be maintained and made available to all user groups except dog owners visiting with their dogs.
The town code does not have a provision that would require an owner to leash their dog, Wilson explained, yet does allow the board to require dogs be leashed while crossing specific no-dog areas, such as cemeteries and certain beaches. Under this proposal, the front half of Springs Park would have to ban dogs completely, except those passing through to the rear section.
"You can have a no dogs area and an off-leash area," Wilson asserted, "but there is no leash law in East Hampton." The town board would have to chose between instituting a leash law in the town code or designate the front 11 acres a no-dog area.
The 11-acre dog park would include benches and a number of ornamental pear trees moved from elsewhere on the parcel, as well as a little over a mile in trails, according to Wilson. The parcel would also be mowed frequently to ensure residents are able to maintain visual contact with their pets at all times. As proposed, Wilson projects the proposal will cost less than $200,000, with most of the work conducted in-house using town equipment.
Most dog parks are no more than an acre in size, according to Wilson. "There are only two larger dog parks in the whole world," he explained, "One is a sand pit in Kansas and one is in Oregon."
Dog owners are advised to curb their pets in this area.
The concerned Springs residents claimed the entire park was now a dog park and that it had become such naturally, through public use. Councilwoman Pat Mansir agreed with them, "You can do activities in other parks, but you can't do this anywhere else in town."
"There's nowhere a dog cannot go," Councilman Brad Loewen exclaimed. "There is no leash law in town."
"We have a lot of public space," Mansir asserted, "but here is something that has evolved on its own because there was a need."
The Public's Parks
While the dog owners were worried they would be losing half of their adopted park, they found an unlikely source of support against the division in Councilman Loewen, who opposed using the Springs Park as a dog park entirely.
"I'm not unhappy with providing a dog park," Loewen explained, "but to do away with a large portion of this park for an exclusive purpose, I just can't do it." Loewen would prefer the park remained open to everyone and another area be set aside for dogs.
Before Loewen became a member of the town council, he sat on the committee that advised the previous town board during the land acquisition. The committee decided to split the full 44-acre parcel into two separate sections, one reserved for conservation and the other for public use as Springs Park.
"The wooded area was to be sacred, nothing was supposed to be touched," according to Loewen, "The rest of the park was to be developed as a park," designed to accommodate all East Hampton residents. "If everyone took a small piece we could probably make it work," he surmised, "Now there's going to be an exclusive use for over half the park."
Supervisor McGintee viewed sectioning off the dog park as helping to make the park more available to all residents. "It's not putting 11 acres aside for dogs," he explained, "it's 11 acres for people who want to use the park, while being fenced off to protect other people who want to use this park safely."
"This [park] has to be available to all user groups," Supervisor McGintee contended.
"If this were the only park this town owns I could see making it all things to all people," Mansir claimed, "But it isn't, there are a lot of other places that we have."
Loewen disagreed, fearing that the public would lose its right to the open space if it were used for a single purpose. "What we're doing is we're restricting people," he claimed. "This is about uses, if you put a bench in there someone is going to come sit on the bench," Loewen continued, alluding that if there is a separate section for dogs, it will be used solely as a dog park, "If you put 10 benches in there, you'll have people filling up 10 benches."
The Town Board reached a consensus to take the proposal to public hearing to be scheduled at a later date. "We've spoken with a number of 'dog people' about this and they all seem to be O.K. with it," Councilman Pete Hammerle assured, afraid that only a small portion of the dog-owning community was present at the work session, "Hopefully everyone concerned will show up at the public hearing."
Supervisor McGintee viewed sectioning off the dog park as helping to make the park more available to all residents.