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12/12/2017

Councilors call for clarified wording before approving new rules for unleashed dogs in Fort Williams Park

The Town Council all but approved new rules and new boundaries for the area where dogs may be unleashed at Fort Williams Park.

Councilors on Dec. 11, 2017 deferred final approval of proposed amendments to the dog ordinance to their meeting Jan. 8, pending clarification of wording that will prohibit unleashed dogs from the multi-purpose athletic fields in the park - located behind the maintenance garage - between April 1 and Nov. 1.

A speaker at a public hearing suggested clarifying the new rules, proposed to limit the time of year that unleashed dogs may run on the fields. "I don't think they meant all dogs, I think they meant off-leash dogs," said Fowler Road resident Heidi Hansen. "I would like to have that clarified."

She and another speaker, Roger Rioux of Bridlepath Way, said they supported the ordinance change, and Rioux went on to say he believed no unleashed dogs should be allowed on the playing fields - ever. Even in the winter, droppings left by dogs pose a safety hazard to children playing on the field, Rioux said. "It is an area that dogs should be on-leash," he said.

At least two councilors said they agreed, but voted with other councilors to retain the gist of the amendment recommended by the Fort Williams Park Committee. Committee chair Mark Russell characterized the proposal as a compromise. "There were clearly people on the committee that said, 'no access' to the field for dogs, off-leash or on-leash," Russell said. "Others on the committee said (that) this is a piece of property that the town has allowed this sort of use - if we take it away completely we're going to have to find some other place for dogs to play," he said.

Enforcement of the town's leash law, and uniform application to areas throughout town, were concerns expressed by several councilors, but they also agreed to address the Fort Williams Park proposal on its own. "If there's further discussion that the council wishes to take up about whether any dogs should be on any playing field at all, we can take that up as a separate issue," said Councilor Jamie Garvin.

In addition to the seasonal restriction of unleashed dogs on the playing field, the proposal also extends the eastern boundary of the park's 20-acre off-leash area - behind the parks-maintenance garage and beyond Merriman Road - to include a portion of the "green" and wooded area around Battery Garesche. The added area is approximately 140,400 square feet, but includes the former battery and woods to the Cliff Walk. [current (2007) map | proposed map].

Maps of the new area, as well as new signage, will be posted around the park