Effort for Off-leash Dog Park Advances

Effort for Off-leash Dog Park Advances

Planning Commission to vote on issue May 31.

— The majority of residents who testified on May 17 before the Planning Commission supported the designation of Westgrove Park as the site of an Off Leash Dog Park (OLDA), according to county staff.

Prior to the hearing two actions set the stage for the current deliberations:

  • A recommendation to approve the interim OLDA by the Park Authority Board contingent on approval by the Planning Commission.

  • And a Planning Commission staff recommendation that the OLDA was compatible with the Comprehensive Plan.

These actions have pushed the prospect of an interim use designation to the brink of realization after years of debate that divided the community into two camps: environmental advocates who believe the Westgrove Park should remain as a natural resource park, and dog owners who wanted an off-leash dog park within the Westgrove Park.

The Planning Commission’s recent public hearing is part of the process to determine if an OLDA would be compatible with the Comprehensive Plan as its staff had concluded. After consideration of the testimony of 16 people representing individual and organizational views on May 17 the commission directed that the public record be kept open for additional input until the commission meets on May 31 to vote on the Comprehensive Plan review for the OLDA at Westgrove Park.

Comments from several individuals and organizations on the Planning Commission and Park Authority deliberations include:

  • Mary Jo Detweiler, Friends of Westgrove: “This is a very poor land use decision which the Park Authority is pushing through the County without benefit of the usual master planning process.”

  • Glenda Booth, Friends of Dyke Marsh: “Approval of an interim OLDA prejudices any future master planning process, shows favoritism to one group and fails to consider other sites” …. “How can the Planning Commission decide if this proposal conforms to a master plan when there is no master plan?”

  • Eleanor Quigley, Mount Vernon Council Environment & Recreation Committee member and the Mt Vernon District Tree Commissioner, representing herself before the Planning Commission: “As the County’s long-range planners it is within your power to make visions reality. Please let this small, sensitive area return to nature. Let it cleanse and retain water. Allow it to grow a wide variety of plants, insects, birds, and mammals. Let it be a peaceful place that nourishes our need for open space and fresh air, a small pocket of nature and outdoor pleasures. Envision the jewel it could be in 50 years if it were returned to nature’s care.”

  • Ned Stone, representing the Friends of Dyke Marsh, testified in detail regarding his organization’s objections to the interim OLDA. Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is managed by the U.S. Park Service, is located immediately east of Westgrove Park, a freshwater tidal wetlands on the upper Potomac river. His testimony centered on two overarching issues of concern: “1. Westgrove Park should be retained as a natural resource park of passive recreation to complement the character of the larger natural corridor in which it exists. 2. The Fairfax Park Authority process to authorize one use at the request of one group represents favoritism, is unfair and prejudices any future master plan.” On the latter issue Stone pointed out in his prepared remarks “that the proposal, if approved by the Planning Commission, would ignore a proposal for a protected natural area that the Friends of Westgrove Park submitted to the Park Authority in 2005; a proposal endorsed by 25 local organizations.” Stone also criticized in detail the staff analysis as deficient, referring to the comprehensive plan application staff analysis.

  • Steven Nixon, president of the local volunteer organization of dog owners, Pumphouse Association for Canine Kindness (PACK), has spearheaded the effort to establish an interim OLDA at Westgrove Park. If the OLDA is approved his organization would be responsible for the maintenance of the OLDA under an agreement with the Park Authority. He said: “I am grateful for the overwhelming support for the interim OLDA at Westgrove Park, as evidenced by the endorsement of our District Supervisor, the Fairfax Park staff, the Fairfax Planning Commission staff, the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, the community of Westgrove, and many other neighborhoods and individual citizens. I also respect the experience and hard work of those few who oppose the dog park — they have ensured this proposal has been tested and scrutinized to an amazing extent.”

If the commission votes in support of designating Westgrove Park for an interim OLDA, the proposal will then move back to the Park Authority to complete the designation of the management of the OLDA by the community applicant, PACK. Simultaneously, Park Authority staff will begin the process of including the development of a long-range Master Plan for Westgrove Park, including to determine if the OLDA is compatible with the long-term interests of the Park. Presently there are seven such OLDAs in Fairfax County. The nearest presently operating OLDA is at Grist Mill Park.