It may not be the deal that the Wellesley Lions Club would have preferred, but after a few false starts, township council this week approved the Lions’ proposal for an off-leash dog park at the Wellesley Community Centre. Still, the decision is unlikely to be the last step in the Lions’ search for a permanent location: council amended the proposal to specify that location be used on a temporary basis.
The leash-free park – the only one of its kind in Wellesley Township – will be developed between the community centre’s two baseball diamonds in the coming months. For club member Richard Franzke, who attended the Tuesday meeting on behalf of the service club, this location represented the best convergence of elements required: it includes parking and bathrooms, is centrally located, and is publically owned.
However, the decision did not come without debate. Coun. Shelley Wagner expressed some trepidation over the already-crowded community centre location.
“My concern is that we have taken an area, and we keep populating it,” she said. “We had one soccer field; we had two baseball diamonds – that was within the last two, three years. We’ve had a splash park … an upper soccer field, a lower soccer field, and we’re adding a multi-use sports pad into the mix.
“Now, we’re also talking about adding a dog park – all in one area.”
The overcrowding situation is the result of a lack of other park space in the village, explained Mayor Ross Kelterborn in agreeing with Wagner’s assessment.
“That isn’t the fault of people that want the dog park – it’s the fault of past councils. We have always taken money instead of land for future parks,” he said of past decisions to take cash in lieu of parkland when developers built new subdivisions.
He added, “I think this council, or the next council that comes in, when we do our Official Plan, we will be doing other things and looking at retaining more parkland, because that park is full, no question.”
In response, Franzke said “we would be very interested, in that point, in calling this the temporary dog park, and in the future looking for a more ideal [location].”
Some dissent also came from Mary Lichty-Neeb, the secretary-treasurer of the Wellesley-North Easthope Agricultural Society. The organization donated the land to the township for recreational purposes, but Lichty-Neeb expressed concern that some owners would leave their dogs unsupervised, or divide attention between their dogs and their kids in the splash park.
“That’s really where our concern is coming from – just our children’s safety,” she said.
“We started this whole dog park because of safety concerns,” said Franzke. “I’ve been to a lot of dog parks … I have never seen anybody walk away. I’ve never seen a loose dog, because other owners would turn on them. They won’t allow it.”
He added, referring to other Wellesley parks, “I think the risks are higher as they are right now. I watch these dogs, they get whipped up in a frenzy [when] a kid comes out with a soccer ball and a bike.”
In November, the Lions proposed a dog park to be built at Nafziger Road and Gerber Road – the club would cover the building costs, and then donate the park to the township. On February 8, council rejected this plan when an investigation into the area found “potential for questionable soil conditions.”
The community centre location was suggested by facilities director Brad Voisin, Coun. Jim Olender, and executive director of corporate/operations Will McLaughlin.
“Staff has spent quite a bit of time on this looking at different options. We’ve pretty much exhausted it. I think this is the only possibility we have that works,” said Voisin.
All expenses associated with the development of the dog park – including fencing, gates, and signage – will be carried by the Wellesley Lions Club. The township will retain the right to close the park for special events like the Wellesley-North Easthope Fall Fair.