Hampden dog park supporters get down to the nitty gritty

Lucy Lou can't talk, but the 2-year-old pit bull mix would love a fenced, supervised dog park in Hampden, says her owner, JoAnna Knight.

Knight and her daughter, Starla Wigfall, 9, were among 10 people who attended a meeting at Christian Love Baptist Church on March 22 to discuss in further detail the idea of a dog park in Baltimore City's 2.6-acre Buena Vista Park, at Buena Vista Avenue and 40th Street, on the border of Hampden, Medfield and Woodberry.

"There's been a buzz about it," said Knight, a real estate agent. "We just made a point to come."

For Knight and her daughter, the new, 600-member Baltimore County dog park, Paw Point, at Robert E. Lee Park, seems awfully far to go to let Lucy Lou run off leash — and other open or planned dog parks in Patterson Park, Canton and Locust Point are much farther away than that.

Knight is encouraged that organizers, including Medfield Community Association President Gary Sever and zoning chairman Richard Kaminski, are pursuing a dog park closer to home.

But the devil was in the details.

On the bright side, supporters like the location of Buena Vista and that the city is planning to spend $110,000 to upgrade the park's playground for the first time in 20 years.

But concerns ranged from what impact a dog park would have on nearby homes to whether it should be a dog park with membership fees like Paw Point or a less formal place self-policed by volunteers, or perhaps funded with a mandatory annual donation to a local animal support group in exchange for use of the dog park.

"I like the membership (model)," said Kaminski, who is a member of the Paw Point oversight committee. "I guess it's not clear to me what another model might be."

In a volunteer model, "If someone's not picking up (dog) poop, you have to yell at them yourself," Sever said.

And Faye Rivkin of Medfield warned that dogs play rough and, "You're hyper-vigilant because you don't want to be the one whose dog draws blood from another dog."

Sever thinks the city should run it and charge a fee. But Rivkin said the city, unlike the county, has never tried such a model.

"We don't want to be the model (or else) we're going to be held to the highest standard by the city. It'll slow us down."

Erin Bolton, of Medfield, was skeptical that enough residents, especially renters, woud be willing to pay a fee.

But group members agreed some mechanism for accountability is needed to ensure well-behaved dogs and responsible owners.

Kaminski said that whatever model they settle on, "We most certainly want (residents) on board."

Sever said Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks officials approve of a dog park conceptually, but want to see an organized core support group of 10 to 15 people.

There were also concerns at the meeting about whether the group can get city funding for the project in time for the project to be placed on the city's fiscal 2013 capital budget, because city departments already are planning for that budget.

Sever said he didn't think it would cost too much to start a park, but that there would expenses for grading, fencing, brush clearing and a separate entrance so that people and their dogs don't cut through Buena Vista Park's playground to get to the envisioned dog park.

There would be costs, too, for a gated system with a keypad and code for members, if the group decides to take that approach, similar to the one at Paw Point.

Group members also said there would need to be a source of running water for the dogs.

Buena Vista Park has a water fountain, but, "I'm not sure it works," said Faye Rivkin, of Medfield.

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