Proposed dog park in Spring Garden pits neighbor against neighbor

At the empty lot in Spring Garden that some residents hope to turn into an off-leash dog park is Ann Northrup, who opposes the plan. That it lies between a church and a school raises opponents' hackles.
At the empty lot in Spring Garden that some residents hope to turn into an off-leash dog park is Ann Northrup, who opposes the plan. That it lies between a church and a school raises opponents' hackles. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 23, 2014

As Ann Northrup stood in the middle of an empty, blighted, pothole-filled lot in Spring Garden nestled between a church and school, Ann Corcoran, who lives nearby, shouted at her from a sidewalk.

"Stop spreading lies, Ann!" said Corcoran, her miniature schnauzer, Clooney, in tow.

For the next few minutes, the two went at each other over the future of the decades-vacant lot on the 1800 block of Green Street. The clash was another skirmish in a long-simmering squabble that has pitted residents against each other over the future of the property.

On one side is the Spring Garden Community Development Corp., which wants to buy the quarter-acre parcel from the Philadelphia School District and turn it into an off-leash dog park. The CDC has a long list of allies in its corner, including City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and several hundred area residents.

"We're responding to the clear needs of a neighborhood that has long expressed interest in a dog park," said CDC vice president Justino Navarro.

On the other side is a group led by Northrup that opposes the park.

They and members of the Enon Baptist Church and parents with children at Laura Wheeler Waring School say a dog park between a church and a school poses serious safety and hygiene concerns.

"It's not only a bad idea, it's disrespectful to the school and church," said Northrup, 65, a 30-year Spring Garden resident.

The fight has been going on for months, and there is no clear end in sight.

Navarro said the CDC informed the school district last summer that it wanted to buy the lot. He hopes a deal will close in time to allow construction to start later this year. The entire project, he said, would cost about $200,000.

The fenced park, according to a list of proposed rules, would be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with access given only to Spring Garden residents who pay $50 a year for each dog.

The CDC has said the park would close for certain church or school functions.

As the CDC moves closer to achieving its goal, Enon Baptist, which has a largely African American congregation and many members who live outside Spring Garden, has joined the growing chorus of those crying foul.

"The church was here at a time when this neighborhood wasn't in the higher socio-economic bracket that it's in today," said Furman Pace, a church deacon. "Now that it is, I feel like they're trying to push us out of the way."

Pace said the church was especially disappointed with Clarke, who represents Spring Garden on City Council. The church wrote a recent letter to Clarke, saying the dog park would be "a serious inconvenience in terms of noise, sanitation, and safety," and met with Clarke's staff earlier this year to discuss their concerns.

"Council President Clarke joins many residents in the area in supporting the proposed dog park," Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said in an e-mail. Clarke's office, Roh added, has received a petition of support for the dog park signed by 90 residents of the 1800 block of Spring Garden Street alone.

Corcoran, 50, agrees.

"You can see how much interest there is among residents, especially those who are close by," she said.

Supporters of the project say the vacant lot is an ideal location for the park.

Some say, though, that a quarter-acre is too small for a dog park.

"There's no way that the space is large enough for an off-leash park," said Antoinette Levitt, 72, a recent past president of the Spring Garden Civic Association. "If I was going to put that kind of money into the community, I'd put it into something that's going to benefit more people."

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