The Arlington Heights Park District Board meeting Tuesday night turned into a standing-room affair as dog owners voiced their desire for a dog park within the village.
Ten residents spoke about the issue at the meeting, airing complaints about restrictions on where dogs are allowed to walk, the burden of traveling to other suburbs to exercise their pets, and the lack of benefits associated with the cost of the mandatory registration of dogs with the village.
The discussion came as the board considered the park district's long-term improvement options. Plans for a dog park were not included in the March referendum that was defeated, but cost estimates -- from $200,000 to $400,000 -- were included in a presentation to the board's committee of the whole last week. Potential locations listed were Melas, Sunset Meadows and Willow parks. Another option presented was a joint venture with the Salt Creek Park District.
Giovanni Senafe, owner of Bentley's Corner Barkery, assisted in organizing the turnout. He said that by posting a notice about the meeting to the store's Facebook page and sending an email via its mailing list earlier Tuesday, he found a number of dog owners were eager to participate. He anticipates that, with further notice, an even larger crowd will show up at future meetings.
Senafe pointed to Hoffman Estates, which is planning on opening a second dog park in a collaborative effort with Elgin and Streamwood. If Arlington Heights wants to compare favorably to other suburbs, Senafe said, a dog park would help.
"Palatine (which has a dog park) is only a hop, skip and jump away," Senafe said. "If I'm someone with a dog choosing a place to move, that's going to seriously weigh into my decision."
Kim Rogers said he has often been frustrated by the inability to take his dog through parks for which he pays taxes. He acknowledged the desire to serve the largest number of people possible -- which has given parks used by humans a higher priority -- but said a dog park would be a low-maintenance venture that would still be used by a significant segment of the community.
"Dog owners will police ourselves," Rogers said. "It can almost be: put a fence up and then leave us alone. It isn't going to be something that requires a lot of staffing by the park."
Park district Executive Director Steve Scholten said two factors that limit the ability to move quickly on a dog park are a Cook County requirement for running water at any dog park and the need for considerable space. A dog park, divided into areas for smaller and larger dogs, will typically be divided once more for an area in which grass can regenerate after heavy use. The segments rotate over the course of the year, but it creates a situation in which more space is needed than just what is being used, Scholten said.
Park board President Maryfran Leno called for staff to investigate dog parks in other local park districts so they can learn areas in which they succeeded and avoid pitfalls as plans proceed.