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City tags dog park as high priority

Revised parks plan under review

NORTH LIBERTY– North Liberty will officially join the hunt for land on which to place a dog park.
North Liberty Parks and Recreation Board members and the North Liberty City Council met in a joint work session Dec. 3 to review a draft of an updated Parks Comprehensive Plan, and informally added an off-leash dog park as a priority.
City Planner Dean Wheatley and Director of Parks, Buildings and Grounds Guy Goldsmith presented a priority list for upgrades and enhancements to each of the city’s existing 20 parks, asking for feedback from the two groups before the plan is put into final form and approved. Priorities were ranked from 1 to 4, with the most pressing needs listed as 1, in hopes they can be accomplished in the next year or two.
In the last 20 minutes of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, discussion turned to the request made by grass-roots group North Liberty Residents for a Dog Park seeking the city’s commitment in establishing an off-leash park.
In 2009, a group of residents asked the city to consider building a dog park, but the effort lost momentum over time. The group reorganized and returned to the council this summer with a petition of more than 700 signatures– a total that has grown to more than 1,000. Since then, North Liberty Residents for a Dog Park, with the assistance of volunteers from Iowa City-based JCdogPac, have been appealing to the city’s elected officials for support.
While the Dec. 3 presentation contained research relating to a dog park– the considerations for its location because of the noise it would produce, estimated development costs and potential operating costs– the document provided no steps to establish one.
And until a location for a dog park is determined, nobody was willing to commit to further action.
“The land is our biggest barrier,” said Parks and Recreation Board member Scott Stahmer. “Where can we put it and not encroach on existing residents? What makes sense?” Outfitting a dog park with amenities could be done through user fees and fundraising, Stahmer added.
Goldsmith said he and his staff have been actively looking for a potential site.
“It’s been on our priority list to try to designate areas where we can put a dog park. It’s not like we’ve thrown it on the back burner,” said Goldsmith.
According to the document, current land prices in North Liberty average about $40,000 an acre. Dog park enthusiasts have said an ideal park size is about 10 acres.
Council member Chris Hoffman said preliminary estimates on construction and operation costs mean little without a location to consider.
“Even having this conversation about land does not mean we are going to be shelling out $400,000,” said Hoffman, who has maintained that building a dog park should be accomplished through a partnership between the city and the dog park advocate group, similar to the partnership between the City of North Liberty and the North Liberty Youth Baseball and Softball organization.
In September, the Residents for a Dog Park asked the Parks and Recreation Board for a dog park to be added to the Parks Comprehensive Plan, and were told the matter wouldn’t be discussed further until the joint meeting.
At that time, dog park supporter Sara Langenberg asked if it was appropriate to say the city was giving at least verbal support, and received nods of agreement but nothing more.
The discussion of Dec. 3 ended similarly, with one notable difference: Mayor Amy Nielsen asked Goldsmith to put in writing that the city intends to seek land compatible to an off-leash dog park.
“The main thing we need to do at this point is put ‘creating a dog park’ or ‘finding a location for a dog park’ in this plan and give it a priority of 1,” said Nielsen. “I understand the committee needs some kind of commitment that we are serious and want to help, but there isn’t anything we can really commit except for ‘we are open to this and we will work on it.’”
Goldsmith said after the meeting city officials would have to be careful not to publicly point out areas of interest before potential negotiations could take place with property owners, but the council has made it clear they want to assign a high priority to the park.
“The Parks Comprehensive Plan will include a dog park, with a proposed size and cost options, but no set location,” Goldsmith said. “Location will be the true obstacle to accomplish here. Once we determine the location, I believe everything will fall into place and funds will be budgeted.”
In an email communication after the meeting, Stahmer offered appreciation on behalf of dog park supporters to the city staff for their work so far.
“Overall, I feel very positive. We are at a point where the city and council are getting good information,” Stahmer wrote. “The budget session is the next step, as there are many boards giving the council their needs (in order) to serve the community. The city council will have to weigh that out and see if there are funds available.”
Meanwhile, Stahmer said, the Residents for a Dog Park and JCDogPac will continue to help raise money and inform the public. “We hope the dog park will be a great outlet for the dogs to burn off energy and be content, as well as (becoming) a perfect place for people to meet and socialize.”
The draft plan will be revised and reviewed again by the Parks and Recreation Board before it moves on to the council for final approval.