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Residents Scrutinize Dog Park Rules

Washington, D.C., officials plan to publish regulations for off-leash dog parks in the next few weeks, but they haven’t officially researched whether those regulations can be met by any city-owned green space.

Capitol Hill dog owners assert that there are no such spaces in Ward 6, meaning their dogs will be left without any place to safely exercise and play.

“It’s just so frustrating that going so far for getting laws changed might not get any dog parks,” said Caroline Kuebler, a Capitol Hill resident who owns two terriers, Stanley and Scarlett. “I just don’t think we could actually put dog parks in Ward 6 with the regulations as they stand.”

Although officials from the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation looked through other cities’ laws, researched best practices and took input from several city agencies, no one applied the rules to D.C. green space, said Jesse Rounds, the DPR community planner in charge of the regulations.

“We don’t have the staff, the funding or the time to look through all the green space,” he said Thursday at the last public meeting before the rules are published.

And while Rounds added that residents will be able to find space to set up a DPR-approved “dog exercise area,” he also admitted that the regulations were very strict.

“We’re being very cautious with the regulations,” he said. “We’re scared that if they’re not stringent, they are going to get out of hand.”

A task force of about a dozen city residents tried to change Rounds’ mind Thursday at the public meeting on the regulations, which the DPR created after the City Council passed legislation to make city-regulated, off-leash dog parks. Although Rounds said he has gotten some calls from residents who don’t want dog parks, public meetings on the issue have been filled with dog lovers.

Going through almost every rule, the dog owners pointed out their grievances: Some they said were too vague, others too restrictive. Residents objected most to one rule that stipulates that dog exercise areas must be at least 100 feet from residences, businesses, school playgrounds and community gardens. Capitol Hill resident Bill Schultheiss even brought in a map showing that most of the city’s parks are off-limits when considering only that rule. It’s a map DPR officials don’t have.

Rounds wrote down all the suggestions but stressed that the changes may not be made. In fact, he said the agency didn’t like to drag out the public comment period beyond the 30-day minimum — something he decided to extend because of upset residents and council members. However, some rules have already been changed because of public comment, including one that would have required a five-block radius of the park to be rat-free.

Dog owners also gawked at the price of the parks, which will have to be fenced in and near a water source. Rounds estimated that each park will cost more than $100,000 — and the DPR plans to have community groups pay for half of it. For fiscal 2008, the DPR has put aside about $600,000 for dog exercise areas but plans to create only two of them in the first year. About $100,000 a year is budgeted for design.

The entire experience has left some D.C. dog owners pessimistic about the regulations, which they will not see again until they are officially published. At the end of the two-hour meeting Thursday, many called the public comment period “a farce.”

“I just feel like what we’re saying isn’t going to make a difference,” Kuebler said.

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