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Dog management prime focus of adopted rules for Cliff House Beach

The Town Council on May 13, 2019 approved a management plan for Cliff House Beach that regulates and limits the hours when dogs are allowed.

Dogs are the primary focus of the plan, approved by the council as an amendment to the Open Space Management Plan approved in 2012.

Under the rules, no dogs are permitted on the beach between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from May 1-Sept. 30. From 6 p.m. to sunrise visitors may bring dogs on a leash. From sunrise to 8:59 a.m. during the season dogs may run off-leash under voice control, and at any time during the off season.

The hours are part of draft revisions to the dog ordinance were referred to committee by the council, also on May 13.

Councilors and neighbors alike lauded the compromise plan for Cliff House Beach, a town-owned beach located at the end of Sea View Avenue north of Fort Williams Park. "I think this is a really good example of the neighborhood, and existing committee and staff and everybody working really well together," said Council Chairman Jamie Garvin.

The rules were recommended by the Conservation Committee after nearly two years of meetings, hearings and even a formal survey conducted by neighborhood residents. Concerns about dog use were raised in 2017 when the committee started talking about an unrelated issue, improving the condition of concrete steps at the beach. [news article]

Tom Meyers, a Sea View Avenue resident who helped develop the neighborhood survey, also supported the compromise but urged the council to adopt the rules immediately, even if the dog-ordinance revision is not yet in place. "Time is of the essence," Meyers said. "We missed last summer, we would like to try to catch it this summer."

Last July, pending a comprehensive review of the dog ordinance that would include Cliff House Beach, the council approved a sign at the beach requesting that users be considerate, keep dogs under control, remove all waste (including dog waste), leave the beach cleaner than they found it, and consider walking or cycling to the beach. Like the sign, Meyers said, an adopted policy will have influence. "Even if we can't look at this as a ... total enforcement act, it certainly shows the power of persuasion and good will," Meyers said.


In addition to the dog rules, the management plan allows but also regulates the use of fire on the beach. Historically visitors have used fire for cooking and for ambiance, but some residents have had concerns. "The Conservation Committee invited comments from the fire and police chiefs, and are recommending that limited fires be allowed," says a memo from Town Planner Maureen O'Meara. "An open-burn permit would be required, which would include additional restrictions for Cliff House Beach."

Shore Road resident Chris Campbell, also representing the neighborhood, said, "As far as the fires go, I thought the Conservation Committee did a very good job of looking at the process from permitting through enforcement," he said. "The ambiance fires down there have always been kind of an important part of the culture and I think that there's a process in place to manage that." He credited the committee and staff for listening to all sides to craft a reasonable set of guidelines.

Jeremy Gabrielson, a councilor who was on the Conservation Committee in 2017, said the time it took to develop the compromises was long, but fruitful. "The input we received not just from those in the neighborhood who had concerns about dogs, but also from folks who value this as a place to go with their dog, I think was invaluable in coming up with a very well balanced solution," Gabrielson said.

Garvin, in his comments, added that the collaborative process serves as a good model for solving problems, similar or dissimilar, anywhere in town.