Dog park no treat for some residents

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ann Northrup says she would prefer the vacant lot on Green Street near 19th to be turned into a community garden.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ann Northrup says she would prefer the vacant lot on Green Street near 19th to be turned into a community garden.
Posted: March 10, 2014

YOU MIGHT think greening a long-vacant, potholed, weedy lot would win unwavering support from neighbors disgusted with the decay.

But not in Spring Garden, where the green will be artificial and occasionally drenched in dog pee.

A plan to put a dog park on a fenced lot on Green Street near 19th has created a bitter divide between supporters who say it'll beat blight and create a neighborhood amenity and critics who worry about odors, noise and dangerous dogs.

The Spring Garden Community Development Corporation hatched the plan, with an eye toward "putting the green back in Green Street and the garden back in Spring Garden," said Justino Navarro, the group's vice president.

"This site has been vacant for close to 30 years. It's pockmarked, full of sinkholes; it has been condemned by the school district [which owns it]," Navarro said. "This is an opportunity to remove an eyesore and create another social and green space for the community while meeting the needs of dog owners."

Navarro's group has circulated petitions supporting the dog park he says most residents have signed - including those directly across the street.

But critics have circulated petitions, too. They say the location - between Enon Baptist Church and Laura Wheeler Waring School - is the main problem. Boisterous dogs, their noise and their odors could be disruptive to both, said Furman Pace, a church deacon.

Navarro emphasized that the park would be open only to dues-paying members, ensuring it attracts folks invested in its success. As for noise, Navarro said, the park would close Sunday mornings and whenever the church or school has special events. And to cut odor, he added, workers will install antimicrobial artificial grass designed for dogs.

Critics remain unconvinced.

"I don't want to make it seem like I don't love dogs. I do. I have two. I have cats, too," Pace said. "But it smells. Feces and urine smell, especially in the summertime. I don't care how much taking care of it you do, it's going to smell."

Pace and neighbor Ann Northrup, a 33-year resident who has led the opposition, also question the exclusivity of the planned park.

"They're taking something that's public and making it private," Northrup said, who instead advocates redeveloping the lot as a public garden Waring students could use in educational activities.

Pace agreed: "You want to put this park here, but it's not for everyone? I don't agree with that either."

Dog parks have proven to be deeply divisive elsewhere.

In Shreveport, La., dog owners sued the mayor last year after he failed to approve funding for a new dog park. They won and the project is underway. Residents in other cities - including Lakewood, Ohio; Reston, Va.; and Phoenix - have filed lawsuits against dog parks complaining about excessive barking, smells and public safety.

Philadelphia already has 15 off-leash dog parks. Rebecca Braglio, for one, is a big fan. "Dog parks are a great way to foster and create a sense of community in a neighborhood," said Braglio, founder of thephillydog.com.


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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