By Katie Fallon
Despite opposition from both the Pooch Park Pals and two council members, the city has approved Plan A for a dog park at Morgan Falls Park.
The decision came in a 3 to 2 vote at the Nov. 20 regular meeting of the City Council.
The dog park is being included in overall Phase I improvements to the Morgan Falls facility, which includes frontage on the Chattahoochee River. The plan design was approved by council members Dianne Fries, Ashley Jenkins and Tibby DeJulio and opposed by Doug MacGinnitie and Karen Meinzen McEnerny.
The decision came after a more than six month odyssey that began with the city contributing $25,000 for a dog park at Ridgeview Park, which is in the southern portion of the city. The plan has now grown to include a $276,000 design, of which the city has committed to contributing $150,000.
Members of the Pooch Park Pals, an advocacy group that campaigned early on in the dog park saga for a facility at Ridgeview Park, opposed Plan A both for its size and lack of trees that would provide shade for their canine friends. Both plans, however, featured separate areas for small and large dogs, with the latter including nine tenths of an acre on both plans. Each plan also featured a small dog area of approximately half an acre, but differed in access to and layout of parking areas.
“We must have more space for the large dog area,” said Pooch Park Pals leader Ali Harris. “Anything less than 1.5 acres is just too small.”
Harris also expressed dismay numerous times that Ridgeview was no longer an option for the park. While resident Ben Whitley approved of Morgan Falls as a location for the park, he agreed with Harris that the park should have been larger than what was approved.
“I’ve walked that piece of land many times so I know it fairly well,” Whitley said. “I think it’s a great place for a dog park if the park were larger. It’s only nine tenths of an acre. Having been to a number of dog parks myself and walking a border collie, nine tenths of an acre is not very much room for a dog, much less several dogs.”
In an email to Harris and the Pooch Park Pals and at the meeting, Jenkins expressed her dismay that the organization was demanding a better park, rather than being grateful the city was spending money on a dog park of any kind. Likewise, the councilwoman expressed the approved plan’s likeness to similar parks in other cities.
“Please try to be somewhat grateful that your city is dedicating money and land to start a dog park instead of constantly complaining about everything that we are trying to do for you on this,” read Jenkins’ email. “I have been a member of several dog parks in several cities with my yellow lab. None of them had trees so you could throw the Frisbee or ball for the dogs. All of them had a gazebo for people to congregate and get out of the way of the dogs.”
Despite the back-and-forth discussion of the pros and cons of the two plans, newly elected District 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie said he was against the idea of the dog park altogether.
“I have a hard time supporting either of these proposals,” MacGinnitie said. “I think the cost of this will go well north of $300,000 and the cost to the city will go well north of $150,000. I understand that it’s wrapped around Phase 1. I think as a city, we have greater uses of our money than this park. I’d choose not to pursue either one of these [plans].”
City Manager John McDonough said the approved plan design is only part of a master plan for Morgan Falls Park. Final details of the master plan, he said, are yet to be worked out. McDonough has said of the $150,000 the city has committed, $100,000 will come from recreational funding for schools and $50,000 will come from the city’s street paving budget.