On Monday, April 4, more than 50 residents gathered at Bonnie Brae Elementary School in Burke to kick-start the master planning process for the 6.2 acre Monticello Park. The park, bordered by Guinea Road and Burke Road, is a long strip of grass and woodland, with parking for about five cars.
The public information meeting, hosted the Fairfax County Park Authority, was the first official meeting giving residents an opportunity to provide ideas and feedback to the park authority about uses for the park.
But the meeting quickly became a referendum on a proposed 1-acre off-leash dog park when Russ Rosen, a member of the Kings Park West Civic Association, recommended that Monticello Park include a dog park. Two years ago, Rosen formed a group of 10 dog-owners who have been scouting locations for an off-leash dog park.
"In the end, we reviewed 20 sites, and the only facility that satisfied the requirements was Monticello Park," Rosen said.
Rosen has two rescue dogs and lives a short distance from Royal Lake Park, where he and his wife regular walk the trails with their dogs.
"The high use of the park for dog walking but no off-leash area, made me an advocate for a place to let dog owners take their dogs to congregate and play without disrupting others from taking advantage of the park," he said.
Several residents of the Lake Braddock community, whose homes skirt the rectangular-shaped park, raised concerns about the viability of a dog park, including limited parking, access, clean-up, safety and congestion and drainage issues.
Dave Burke, a 30-year-resident of the nearby residential neighborhood, said he was concerned about clean-up, security and the fact that dog feces attract rats.
"A lot of people use that grassy strip of land. I think it’s an advantage to have undeveloped land for spontaneous activities, like pick-up games of soccer, La Crosse, and jogging. I think the county should consider the human use," he said.
Sandy Stallman, a manager with the Park Authority, who moderated the discussion session, said off-leash dog parks are a partnership between a sponsoring group, such as Rosen’s group, and the Park Authority.
"We currently have eight off-leash dog parks, so we know the issues and liabilities. We build on the experience of the last park," she said. Stallman asked residents to remember that the process has just begun. "We are in a visioning mode right now." She added that a dog park would cost approximately $60,000, and half of the money would come from the sponsoring group.
Other residents said they were in favor of an off-leash dog park, noting that parks are strictly monitored and provide a safe option for residents to let their dogs run free.
Tony Vellucci, the Braddock District representative to the FCPA, said he thought the meeting allowed both sides to express their concerns about a dog park.
"The Braddock District is one of the few districts within the Fairfax County Park Authority system that does not have an off leash dog area. This effort seeks to make use of a vacant strip of parkland providing a location in the Braddock District where dog owners can bring their pets without having to travel to neighboring districts that do have an off-leash dog area," Vellucci said.
"We will have to wait for the draft master plan to come out to ensure that their issues and concerns are adequately addressed so that the plan provides the greatest utility to the greater Braddock District, while ensuring the immediate neighbors' quality of life is preserved," Vellucci said.
After the meeting, Rosen said the sustained interest in the dog park made him optimistic that the Park Authority would recommend a dog park as the master plan process progresses. He said he thought the advantages of a dog park at Monticello, which include the convenience, the dense tree buffer and the lack of other viable sites in a 3-mile area, outweigh the disadvantages.
"I think the bottom line is that if this site is not accommodated for an off-leash dog park with local residents’ concurrence, it is unlikely we will see an off-leash dog park in our area," he said.
For Monticello Park Project updates, go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/monticello.htm.