A proposal to bring a dog park to the new Blandair Park, which would be Columbia's first such facility, has left local residents divided, and a county government panel involved in the decision wants to hear more from them.
Meanwhile, a second dog park in Columbia also is being contemplated.
More than a dozen people spoke out both for and against the Blandair project Thursday evening at a meeting of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks Advisory Board. Another 20 voiced their opinions via emails to the board. And those who still want to weigh in will now have through June 15 to do so online at howardcountymd.gov/BlandairDogPark.htm
The board will ultimately make a recommendation to the Recreation and Parks Department staff, who would make the decision.
"We have time," Lowell Adams, the board's vice chairman, said Thursday. "We're not in a big hurry on this."
The first section of Blandair Park opened in the village of Oakland Mills in March and includes a playground and three artificial turf fields. Over the next several years, more sections with more features are due to open on both sides of the park, which is split by Route 175.
One of those features could be a dog park, fulfilling rising demand from area residents, according to county park planner Clara Gouin.
"We've been getting the word that many dog owners would like to have more open areas for their dogs to exercise," Gouin said at Thursday's meeting. "A few years back we put in one off-leash park, and it's been extremely popular."
The county's first dog park opened in 2002 in Worthington Park in Ellicott City. The still-developing Blandair Park would be the second park, one easier to get to for many county residents.
"I love Worthington dog park, however, from my house it's about 35 minutes with traffic, so it's kind of far. I don't go there probably as much as my dog would like me to," said Lisa Grantham, a North Laurel resident. "This one is 20 minutes away. It's way more convenient."
There are two potential places in Blandair where a dog park could go, Gouin said. The first is in the southwest section, part of the third phase of the park, the planning for which is expected to begin by the end of this year, with construction not likely until 2014 at the earliest. The second potential location is in the northwest section of Blandair, planned for a future phase for which there is not yet a timetable.
The Columbia Association, meanwhile, is offering to partner with the county government on a Blandair dog park while also seeking to operate another park itself elsewhere in town, according to Jane Dembner, CA's director of community building and sustainability.
"There are no specifics yet worked out, but we wanted to extend our offer of assistance at the first opportunity," Dembner said.
"CA also hopes to locate a dog park site on the west side of Columbia to complement the county's Blandair site."
Oakland Mills opposed
The Oakland Mills village board, however, is against both Blandair spots, board Co-chairwoman Margaret Mauro said Thursday.
The southern spot "would be very close to a destination playground and quiet game area, neither of which would be compatible with an adjacent dog park," Mauro said. The site "would have a negative impact on the adjacent community and not conform with the overall, and previously planned, park layout."
The northern spot, meanwhile, "is extremely close to many residential properties," she said, and "also located in an area that has been designated woodlands — an environmental area and natural side of the park. A dog park would not be compatible."
Several residents spoke of their concerns Thursday. Angela Davis, who lives in Thunder Hill, near where the northern section of the park will be, said she pictured numerous cars disrupting what had previously been a quiet street.
Cathy Latham, who also lives in Thunder Hill, said she was worried about the environmental impact on the wetlands and watershed from dogs relieving themselves.
And Allison Stroebele, coincidentally of Sleeping Dog Lane in Thunder Hill, presented the advisory board with a petition she said was signed by 46 local residents who oppose having a dog park in the northern part of Blandair.
"The houses we have there are quite quiet," Stroebele said Thursday. "We're worried about increased noise because the dog park is so close to that edge of the park.
"We're also concerned about some bad smells or odors. We know most people pick up after their dogs, but there's always some people who forget."
Yet other local residents countered that people are more likely to pick up after their dogs when surrounded by other owners at a dog park.
Worthington's dog park also has people living nearby, the closest being about 160 feet away, according to Jennifer Dearmey, the county's park operations superintendent. After dealing with complaints in the first year, there have been no complaints about smell or noise in the nine years since, she said.
Some of those speaking in support of the proposed dog park live near Blandair.
"The concept of a dog park seems to me to be an answer to our urbanized style of life," said Cecil Phillips, also of Sleeping Dog Lane. "Most couples work. They have pets. The pets stay home all day long, then they take them for a walk.
"I'm one of those who's guilty of having done that. I had a golden retriever. I took him for walks, and when no one was looking, I took him off the leash. He loved it."