Fans rally for Healdsburg dog park
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 3:12 p.m.
Dog owners in Healdsburg are planning to show up Wednesday at City Hall to make it clear they want to keep open a popular dog park on Fitch Mountain.
The 1½-acre Villa dog park, described as the largest enclosed dog park in Sonoma County, was mentioned for possible closure in a long list of “improvement recommendations” for the nearby city-owned Villa Chanticleer.
But city officials on Monday insisted there are no plans to do anything with the dog park.
“Are we looking to close the dog park? Absolutely not,” said Assistant City Manager David Mickaelian. “The dog park is an important part of Healdsburg.”
“We would not contemplate any type of movement, any significant change, without consulting and working with the public who use it,” he said.
Dog owners were alarmed when they found out recently that the dog park relocation was on a long list of potential changes for the Villa Chanticleer, which for generations has served as a setting for weddings, high school proms, Christmas parties and other events.
The community center has been losing money for years, and a subcommittee of the Parks and Recreation Commission has been studying how to make it more financially viable.
A three-page list with about 80 recommendations had several pertaining to the adjacent dog park, which is part of city property on Fitch Mountain.
It mentioned a “lack of compatibility between Villa wedding and event use and Dog Park use; dogs walk through the Villa; dogs bark during ceremonies and events — disruptive.”
It suggested creating a group picnic area where the dog park is, and relocating the dog park to the National Guard Armory, or the skate park.
Those suggestions mobilized defenders of the dog park who created their own special page on Facebook “Save our Dog Park.”
They disputed allegations that barking dogs have disrupted weddings at Villa Chanticleer or that dogs taken to the park stray into the community center.
“There's never a barking dog nuisance complaint,” said Cecilia Pietropaoli, a member of the Healdsburg Dog Park Committee who owns a pet-sitting service.
“Dogs will bark,” she said. ”There are a lot of fancy homes up there. If people complained, they would have complained in the 10 years the dog park has been up there.”
“There's been no documentation of any incident causing problems at any events or weddings,” she asserted.
Elizabeth Haskell, the city recreation supervisor who was on the subcommittee that studied Villa Chanticleer, said Monday that the suggestions on the dog park came from a “brainstorming list.”
“I know people have gotten riled up,” about the dog park issue, she said, but added “if you read the report and take a look comprehensively at everything looked at, I don't think that would be one of the top things that would transpire.”
“I have dogs,” she added. “I think the concern might be a little premature.”
City Councilman Steve Babb, who also was on the subcommittee, said moving the dog park could potentially free up the space to generate more income for a garden or barbecue area.
But he said a new dog park in another location would have to be developed and he isn't certain how feasible that would be.
“There's no intent of shoving a dog park in a corner somewhere — at least in my mind,” he said.
Somewhat overshadowed by the dog park ruckus is the main thrust of the subcommittee's work — their recommendation that the Villa Chanticleer be leased out to make it a high-end, special event venue.
The Villa has been losing between $40,000 to $50,000 annually over the past several years.
To stem the red ink, the subcommittee is recommending the city solicit requests for proposals to lease it out to a third party that would operate it as a high-end, special event venue.
Recognizing its tradition as a community gathering place, any contract would include guaranteed dates and preferred pricing for local nonprofits to hold annual events as well as reduced pricing for locals.
“This is a subcommittee, and these are recommendations. It doesn't mean all will be put in place,” Mayor Gary Plass said. “I for one want to have a community discussion before we talk about subletting or leasing out the Villa.”
The subcommittee will present its recommendations at 6 p.m. Wednesday to the Parks and Recreation Commission. It will then decide which to forward to the City Council, which has the final say on the subject.
The meeting is at City Hall, 401 Grove St.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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