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Votes

Letter: Westgrove Park and River Towers

To the Editor:

As a supporter of the Westgrove Park Off Leash Dog Area (OLDA), I attended the public meeting of the Park Authority (FCPA) on April 30, 2013 at which the proposed master plan for the park was explained and public comment was invited. The great majority of the approximately 100 attendees clearly favored the OLDA, but the same handful of opponents had obviously organized opposition talking points. Among the talking points were (1) that residents of River Towers are disturbed by barking dogs; (2) that the OLDA causes the park to be less attractive to wild animals; (3) that the OLDA adversely impacts the environment; (4) that no urine is collected from dogs using the OLDA; (5) that the OLDA is much larger than other county OLDAs; and (6) the OLDA was created as an interim use with a two-year time period imposed and FCPA should not include the OLDA in the permanent master plan until the two-year period has been completed. Taking these issues seriatim, I note the following:

(1) It is not credible that dogs playing at the OLDA could meaningfully disturb residents of River Towers. Last Saturday, I visited the OLDA, bringing my decibel meter with me to measure sound. I stood in the corner of the OLDA closest to River Towers (see accompanying photo) and pointed the decibel meter in the direction of the OLDA. In 30 minutes of monitoring, with at least a dozen dogs present at all times, I was unable to capture any sounds greater than 65 decibels. This is the equivalent of the noise generated by a normal conversation between two people standing three feet apart. The closest condos at River Towers are at least two football fields' distance away from the OLDA and as demonstrated by the photo, only 14 windows of one River Towers building are visible from the OLDA. Noise level dissipates proportional to the square of the distance traveled. As such, 65 decibel noise within the OLDA could not possibly create a disturbance 200 yards away. Moreover, numerous dogs are often seen being walked within the River Towers property. Those dogs are most likely to create noise that can be heard from a River Towers condo.

(2) The loudest noises I heard when monitoring sounds at the OLDA were the sounds of chirping and singing birds in the adjacent trees. Others have commented that they often see wild animals within the park in general. The biggest despoilers of the environment are geese. The presence of dogs reduces the presence of geese, thereby creating a benefit.

(3) Dog parks are well established as best management practices in a park. It is well documented that dog owners are more likely to clean up after their pets in a public park than in their own yard. Thus, providing a space to exercise dogs in a public park provides an environmental enhancement.

(4) The OLDA subtends 7 percent of the area of Westgrove Park. Since no one is collecting the urine from the wild animals using the other 93 percent of the park, it is ludicrous to suggest that users of the OLDA collect urine from their dogs.

(5) The OLDA is much larger than other county OLDAs because it uses a turf surface as opposed to the stone dust in other parks. The larger area of the Westgrove Park OLDA spreads out turf wear over a larger area, thereby reducing overall wear.

(6) Opponents of the OLDA gave no legitimate reason why it should be maintained as an interim use for the next 18 months.

At the beginning of the meeting, FCPA spokesperson Judy Pedersen stated guidelines for speakers, specifically explaining that people claiming to speak for an organization should provide details concerning that organization. Despite that admonition, Mary Jo Detweiler claimed to be speaking on behalf of "Friends of Westgrove Park," but did not provide the details about the organization requested by Ms. Pedersen. As has been documented in my prior letters to the Gazette, Friends of Westgrove Park does not exist as a Virginia corporation, does not hold public meetings, and is not considered by FCPA to be an official organization affiliated with Westgrove Park. It is in essence a secret society of a handful of OLDA opponents with a name and a letterhead.

The Gazette did its credibility a disservice by including in his article a photograph of Detweiler that identified her affiliation with Friends of Westgrove Park. This "organization" should be accorded zero credibility, yet the Gazette published that photo on its front page. How about an investigation?

All in all, the handful of naysayers notwithstanding, the April 30 meeting successfully demonstrated the strong community support that the OLDA be included in the final master plan for Westgrove Park. I anticipate this will be the result.

H. Jay Spiegel, Mount Vernon