Proposed Park Street dog park raises questions for councilors

Two city councilors last week suggested holding off on plans to convert a vacant city lot just north of Ralston Park into a dog park.

During the City Council’s regular meeting July 11, Councilor Bob Elliott asked the council, “the dog park across from Ralston Park, why do we need another dog park? We’ve got two big parks already. Wouldn’t it be better to have kind of a kid’s park there? There’s nothing at Ralston Park for the kids to do.”

In September, the council extended Ralston Park to include the lot, located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Maple and Park streets. The lot, across Maple Street from Ralston Park, was purchased by the city to help stop problems in the immediate neighborhood with a continuation of people going onto the property and loitering, bringing in trash and sleeping bags.

As part of the park, the lot is closed to the public from dusk till dawn, and park rules can be enforced there.

Councilor Jason Bolen said he had some input on that after attending a Neighborhood Watch meeting with Ralston Park area residents earlier in the week.

“These are the neighbors that have concerns about loitering and things of that nature,” Bolen said. “One of the things that came up, though, was that they’re kind of pleased to see the lot cleaned up, but all of them questioned, ‘Why another dog park?’ Why is this going to be a dog park? It didn’t make sense to any of them. I told them that I would bring that to council.”

Second, that area has no street lights nearby, and it gets “very dark,” he said. When the gas station shuts down and shuts its lights off, it’s “pitch black.”

“That still is a city park,” he said. “There’s a lot of foot traffic through there, and there can be a lot of cutting through that area. I think liability-wise and safety-wise, it’d probably be in our best interest to support some sort of permanent lighting for that park.”

A resident living next door to the park was specifically calling for it, Bolen said. She would be the only one that the ambient light would encroach on, “so it’s kind of a no-brainer for us to look out for the safety of that neighborhood and also protect the city from liability.”

“The problem is it’s so small, there’s not a lot you can do with it,” said Mayor Paul Aziz. “It’s just that little pocket of a piece of property.”

“It’s a pretty good-sized lot, though, for a play structure,” Bolen said.

“The whole idea of a dog park was to kind of have people coming in so there’s always constant traffic going in and out of the dog park,” Aziz said. “The reason we even put that in there was because of the homeless and because of the people sleeping there and the trash and the drugs that were going on.

“That kind of park or space was made so that, that wasn’t going to happen any more, and that’s why the fence was put up. That was my feeling on the dog park, that it would be a good idea. There would be traffic there. When you have a lot more people, it tends to get rid of the criminal element.”

Bolen said people show up, let go of the leash and let the dogs run.

“You’re going to have issues one way or the other,” he said. “All the residents there kind of  questioned, ‘Why this?’ It made me wonder whether maybe we should’ve done some sort of a survey of the residents first.”

He said he’s not questioning what was done or how it was done, but with hindsight and looking toward the future, “maybe we can have a little best-of-both-worlds scenario there and appease the actual neighbors in that area, definitely with the night, and secondarily, maybe we can create a smaller shared space where there’s more than just a dog park.”

Because the area will be fenced with a double entry that can be blocked off, people won’t cut  across that lot, Councilor Rebecca Grizzle noted.

“Or they’ll go inside there and be more secure when they’re in there doing whatever they’re doing because they know people won’t come in,” Bolen said. “If it’s night time and you want to find a place to hide out, you’ll go through two or three gates to get to a spot where you can be in the dark and hide out.”

Grizzle said she thinks the lighting is a valid point.

“But I think there is a call for another (dog park). I didn’t know we had an overabundance of dog parks. I thought  it was nice to have one kind of down there. Three blocks away you have a kids park at Booth.”

“Lighting is very critical to that area,” said Councilor Wayne Rieskamp. “But I’ve not had anyone that’s in favor of another dog park. In fact, they will say, why another dog park? Let’s do something to enhance Ralston Park. They don’t have any ideas, but they would rather see something else to enhance Ralston Park.”

“I think it’s important to recognize the wants and desires of the citizens, especially those that live in that area when developing that park,” Bolen said.

“It’s going to be kind of their neighborhood park. If none of those people in that neighborhood want a dog park because maybe they’re not dog people, and then people are going to be bringing dogs into their neighborhood – and dogs usually get walked in or out – I think we need to listen to the people on this one and not so much make a unilateral decision.

“Maybe we can roll back our ideas a little bit before too much is invested and try to accommodate them a little more. I know they would  appreciate that.”

Several councilors echoed  their agreement.

In the fall, the city has a committee that will look at Ralston Park, Aziz said. He suggested referring this to that committee, with members who are locally invested in that community.

Bolen suggested reaching out to the neighborhood to serve on that committee. He expects they will get involved in it.

Aziz said he would bring up the lighting issue with City Manager Gary Marks, who was absent from the council meeting.

Present at the meeting were Aziz, Bolen, Elliott, Floyd Fisher, Robert Furlow, Grizzle and Rieskamp.

In other business, the  council:

n Awarded a bid to R.J. Armstrong and Associates of Lebanon for $197,000 to complete and pave the West River Trail Project.

The engineer’s estimate for the project was $173,000. Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlatch said the difference between the bid and estimate was the price of a retaining wall that the engineer valued at $30 per foot, while the bid set the price at $90 per foot.

The bid also includes pavement of the island trails at Cheadle Lake.

Also bidding were North Santiam Paving Co. for $199,000 and Benzer Construction Company for $298,000.

Portions of the West River Trail already exist but are not paved, Whitlach said. It extends from the area of Riverview School, from a parking area behind the housing on Mayfly Street, along the South Santiam River to Mountain River Drive about 200 feet north of its intersection with River Drive.

n Approved an ordinance designating 13.8 acres in eight properties along the south side of East Grant Street as a mixed use zone from industrial and mixed-density residential zones. The designation applies to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning map.

Community Development Director Walt Wendolowski told the council that it would be far more compatible with surrounding development and provide greater development opportunities for the property owners.

The property is bordered to the east by mixed use. To the west, across Grant Street, is River Park and Everyone’s Market. It roughly stretches from Lebanon Servco, Inc., to the city-owned Gill’s Landing.

Mixed use zoning allows a combination of commercial and residential uses with industrial uses that have limited potential for nuisance or jeopardy to public health, safety and welfare.

Multiple property owners, including the city, applied for the plan and map amendment.

pn Approved a request for Gleanns at River Place to designate a 9.51-acre parcel on the west side of River Road, approximately 350 south of its intersection with Mountain River Drive as mixed-density residential from low-density residential and industrial.

Wendolowski said the mixed-density residential zoning would allow single-family houses on smaller parcels.

A 27-lot single-family subdivision was approved by the Planning Commission contingent on council approval of the rezoning.

The subdivision will be built upon one of two lots that will be created by a partition of the  property.

The bulk of the single-family lots will be 5,000 square feet, Wendolowski said, and they will range up to 7,500 square feet.

n Annexed 2.17 acres of a 3.42-acre parcel located at the northwest intersection of Russell Drive and Franklin Street and zoned it mixed-density residential. The property was already designated mixed-density residential in the Comprehensive Plan.

The applicant was Good Faith Management, LLC, and the property is owned by Rick and Sharon Brewer. The applicant did not describe specific plans for the property.