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The Issue: A decade after residents of the McLean Gardens residential community started lobbying for a dog park on Newark Street, construction has finally begun. But can the new dog park and the established, strictly pet-free community garden co-exist in the same place?
The gardeners have had a history of problems with some dog owners who, according to Newark Street Community Garden Association President Linda Blount Berry, have allowed their pooches to poop on the garden’s land and have ripped out the signs barring canines from the area. To Berry, the dog park represents “rewarding bad behavior.”
After 10 years of fighting Berry for their park, though, the dog park’s proponents say she’s being a sore loser—and hijaking the Community Garden Association. Under Construction: Berry says the contractors and their crews have done a good job on the construction, but the nascent dog park is already having an impact on the community garden. The garden plots closest to the dog park are “devastated,” Berry says, and when the contractors discovered that they had miscalculated the water supply, they were forced to dig trench through the community garden.
“If they had chosen an appropriate site in the beginning, they wouldn’t be going through all these unexpected [problems],” Berry says.
The construction of the dog park has brought a number of other changes to the Newark Street Park, including new fences and a service road—additions that Berry, a landscape designer by trade, feels undermine the open space ethos of the park.
But Kathy Silva, a long time advocate of the dog park, says the fences and service roads are necessary improvements. Silva says the new road will make the park accessible to the disabled, bringing the park into accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (now 20 years old). Furthermore, one of the main areas that will be fenced in thanks to the dog park is the tot lot located at the northwestern corner of the park, which Silva says should have been fenced in long ago.
“I have been horrified at the number of times the little children have been running toward the street,” Silva says. “I’m glad there’s going to be a fence around the playground, it was an accident waiting to happen.”
Sticker Shock: The project’s big price tag—about $400,00 under current estimates—has also attracted criticism, with some wondering on local listservs why so much money is being devoted to dog parks in a year when the Council struggled to balance the budget. In addition to the construction costs, the dog park will require daily trash pickup.
Silva says the dog park proponents have paid their fair share through taxes and fundraising. The Newark Street Park K-9 Friends have raised $25,000 for amenities such as benches and a shade cover and have received grants from the local ANC, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh‘s constituent fund and nearby animal hospitals.
“We are not taking money out of the mouths of anybody,” Silva says. “We have a memorandum of agreement with the city, we’ve raised money, we’re not freeloading.”
And while the construction costs may sound inordinately high, Silva is quick to point out that much of the money is going to improvements to other areas of the park, such as those fences and that ADA ramp. “I’m looking forward to the final figures and the breaking down of what cost what. The dog park is substantially less than the total figure,” she says.
Discord in Community Garden: While Berry has insisted that there was an “unbelievable” amount of opposition to the dog park among the community gardeners, not everyone agrees with her assessment of public sentiment. ANC Commissioner Trudy Reeves, whose Single Member District includes the Newark Street Park, says that Berry and her husband, Lew Berry, the current president of the Community Garden Association, have stifled pro-dog park voices within the community garden.
“Many people at the garden are in favor [of the the dog park], they just didn’t show up because they were afraid of retaliation,” Reeves says. Reeves herself was a member of the Community Garden Association’s board of directors until she was “kicked off” in 2003.
“it’s more of a dictatorship,” Reeves says. “They feel they own the park, but the park is public property.”
A Political Park: For all the neighborhood quarrels it has caused, the dog park has been connected to a fair number of city politics headlines, too. The dog park was one of the dozen projects sketchily assigned to Banneker Ventures through the D.C. Housing Authority. After those contracts were put on hold by the Council, the dog park’s construction was taken up by Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.
The dog park also played a key role in securing D.C. Council At-Large candidate Clark Ray one of his most high-profile endorsements. As director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, it was Ray who loosened the regulations for dog parks in 2007, largely at the urging of Newark Street Dog Park proponents like Silva. A few years later, Ray received an enthusiastic endorsement from Madeline Albright, Silva’s sister.
Most recently, the dog park has drawn the Council’s attention due to the asphalt road built to service the dog park. At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Ward 3’s Cheh co-sponsered legislation to remove the recently constructed roadway and disallow the future construction of paved roads or pathways in the park. At a July 13th vote, the bill was passed unanimously.
Reeves says the councilmembers’ main objections to the service road were aesthetic. “Mendelson and Cheh’s only stated reason for wanting the road taken out is that they think it is ‘ugly. … In addition to providing ADA access, the road provides access for the trash trucks to pick up the trash cans,” Reeves wrote in an email. “I don’t think any of us want overflowing poop cans around the dog park.”
Next Step: If construction continues on schedule, the dog park is set to open in August—with or with out the service ramp, though, remains to be seen. At their Monday night meeting, the ANC passed a motion to petition the D.C. Council to allow the service road to remain at the park and not to delay further dog park construction.