The Sandy Springs City Council has banned dogs from the small park area at City Springs following concerns raised about the amount of pet waste being left behind.
In a rare 4-2 split vote, the council at its June 19 meeting agreed to prohibit people from walking their dogs, and other pets, in the City Green park area of the massive new City Springs mixed-use civic center that also features apartments and retail and restaurant space.
Mayor Rusty Paul argued keeping dogs out of the park area was a public health issue because children and others could be exposed to fecal matter. Councilmember Tibby DeJulio said approving such legislation sends an unwelcoming message to residents so soon after the City Springs opening.
“Sandy Springs was established as a family-friendly city … and families have pets,” said DeJulio, the owner of two dogs, Cyrus and Scout.
“There are no bad pets, only bad owners,” he added. “We need to work on the owners who are not taking care of their dogs.”
As more city programming including more and more children’s programming takes place on the half-acre lawn area at the City Green, it is the city’s responsibility to ensure attendees don’t step or sit in dog waste, Paul said.
There are several pet stations in the complex where dog owners can get bags to pick up and then toss their dogs’ droppings. But many people don’t seem to be making use of them.
“I hate saying this … but when I walked through the new residential area I was amazed at the amount of fecal matter around the apartments,” said Paul, owner of three dogs.
“We can’t do nothing — this to me is a public health issue,” he said. “We want kids to come play here. I don’t want to subject kids to that threat.” He said when he picks up his dogs’ waste, there is still fecal residue left behind. Any amount of fecal matter can be hazardous, he said.
DeJulio pointed out that the fountain springs children enjoy pose several hazards as well.
“Those fountains are pretty slippery and there are things pointing up [out of the ground] … and are probably more dangerous [than dog waste],” he said. Passing the ordinance, he said, serves as a “bad symbol” to dog owners and residents.
Councilmember Chris Burnett described the issue as a no-win situation. The worst thing to have is small children exposed to dog waste, but on the other side of the argument is the fact that City Springs and its park area were built for people to use, including those who consider their dogs as their children.
“The problem with such exclusivity … is [City Springs] was paid for by people with dogs, also,” he said.
Those living in the Aston apartments that are part of the City Springs development were cited by city staff as the most frequent offenders of walking their dogs in the park area and not cleaning up the dog waste.
Of approximately 100 units leased in early June at the Aston, the majority of residents have dogs, according to a presentation to council members. The City Green is also the closest area for nearby residents to walk their dogs, which are allowed in local apartment buildings.
Pets in the park have also ruined some of the landscaping in the City Park area requiring replanting. With a child-centric play area connected to the City Green and the grass area intended for lawn-style seating, staff determined it was time to do something to keep the lawn area clean and reduce as much as possible hazards from animal waste, according to city officials.
The actual vote was a bit confusing.
Councilmember John Paulson made the motion to approve banning dogs with a second made by Councilmember Steve Sotores.
DeJulio then made an amendment to the motion to only approve the legislation until Dec. 31 to give the city more time to educate the public and apartment residents about cleaning up after their dogs. Councilmember Chris Burnett seconded the amendment.
The vote on the amendment was 3-3, with Burnett, DeJulio and Sotores voting in favor and Councilmembers Andy Bauman, John Paulson and Jody Reichel voting against. Mayor Paul broke the tie by voting against the amendment and so it failed.
On the original motion to approve the new ordinance, the vote was 4-2, with DeJulio and Burnett voting no and Bauman, Paulson, Reichel and Sotores voting in favor.
Violators will face stiff fines as well: $50 for the first offense, $100 for second and third offenses, and $250 for any additional offenses. Guide dogs and service dogs will be permitted. The ordinance went into effect immediately but there is a 30-day warning period before fines are enforced.