Almost four months after members of the Columbia Association staff pinpointed a location in Harper's Choice for Columbia's first dog park, some community members are voicing opposition to the site, their concerns ranging from parking problems and noise to the loss of open space and a drop in property values.
"The parking is already dense along Cedar Lane and Rivendell," said Jim Greco, a resident of Heritage Green who lives across the street from the proposed site, three acres located between Rivendell Lane and the Columbia SportsPark. "At peak game times in the park, it is downright hazardous for the kids coming and going from the park to the cars."
According to Harper's Choice Village Board Chairman Stephen Cook, about 10 residents spoke in favor of the site at a meeting of the board in June. That prompted the board to approve the dog park, with the condition that CA keep the board abreast of all developments.
However, after the board visited the site with members of CA staff and residents on Oct. 2, the board requested CA come back with a plan that addressed residents' concerns.
"My sense is that residents are not opposed to dog parks per se, but (they) are concerned," Cook said in an email.
Cook said residents have expressed concern about vagrants, increased noise, the possible increase in rodents, the loss of the existing open space (now occupied by two baseball fields) and an increase in parking and traffic congestion.
Columbia Association Director of Capital Improvements Denis Ellis said CA is in the process of developing a response to residents' concerns, mainly regarding the park's entry point and parking.
"The Harper's Choice Village Board requested that we get back to them with information concerning revising the plan to show the dog park entrance and parking at the SportsPark, but also to explore reducing the size of the dog park to accommodate an open play field for sports and recreational uses," Ellis said.
In the original plan, the point of access was off of Rivendell Lane on a street known as Old Cedar Lane.
Ellis said there are currently no plans to expand parking off Rivendell Lane. Instead, he said, CA is looking at utilizing parking at the SportsPark.
If built, the park would be the second dog park in Howard County, the only other being Worthington Dog Park in Ellicott City.
'A larger issue'
Parking at the new dog park is a problem for Heritage Green resident and dog owner John Jennings.
"During Saturdays, this area is used as an overflow parking for the football games played on the artificial turf fields at Cedar Lane Park," Jennings said. "Resulting traffic on Cedar and Rivendell Lanes has been a serious issue. With the addition of a dog park, parking and traffic issues will only intensify."
But Jennings said the main reason he is opposed to the park is because he believes it will decrease property values in the neighborhood.
"A dog park in that area might satisfy a few of Columbia's residents, but there is a larger issue," Jennings said in a letter to the Harper's Choice Village Board.
Jennings said it is difficult to maintain property values in the neighborhood as is, and he believes the dog park will further burden Heritage Green.
"The Columbia Association is choosing to burden an already relatively disadvantaged economic area with yet another so-called 'amenity'," Jennings said.
CA spokesman David Greisman said a recent study conducted by the the Chesapeake Group Inc. found that CA and its amenities, programs and services add to local property values.
"CA's amenities, programs and services enhance the quality of life for people living and working in Columbia and are part of why our community has been recognized several times as one of the best places to live in the country," Greisman said.
"Columbia is a desirable place to be, and it's not a surprise that a recent study found that CA and its services also add to property values."
Some residents also are concerned that a dog park would displace residents who now use the open space for informal recreation, like youth sports practices and pick-up frisbee games.
Harper's Choice Village Manager Wendy Tzuker said many of the people who currently use the site are not authorized to do so by CA, making it hard to track usage.
"Many of the uses are not authorized by CA so we don't have a handle on exactly how many uses there are," Tzuker said. "They are CA fields, so in order to use them you should go through the Columbia Association. The record CA has is there aren't any uses, and in actuality, there are."
Jim Carlan, the Chief Operating Officer for the Soccer Association of Columbia, his organization does not formally schedule games on the field, but he wouldn't be surprised if individual coaches used it for practice.
"I haven't heard of anyone using it, but if it's an open space, someone is using it," Carlan said. "There is never enough space, not just for soccer. In the fall, there is a huge demand for open areas to play on, so obviously if that was taken away it could be a problem."
Although the proposed dog park would be the first in Columbia, a county proposal to build an additional dog park at Blandair Park is currently being considered by the Department of Recreation and Parks advisory board, according to Raul Delerme, Bureau Chief of Capital Projects, Park Planning and Construction for Howard County.
Delerme said the board will recommend action on construction of a dog park in Blandair Park at its Nov. 14 meeting.