Thursday, March 26, 2009
New Push for Dog Run in Juniper Valley Park
The current off-leash site at Juniper, where a group would like a dog run. The JPCA has suggested a site elsewhere in the park due to the damage already caused to grass and trees in this area.(Photo by Christina Wilkinson)
By Conor Greene
The push for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park has gained new momentum, with a group of animal lovers now lobbying the local community board for support.
Dogs are currently allowed to run off-leash in city parks from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., provided the park is open during those hours. That means that residents must bring their dogs to Juniper Valley Park from between when it opens at 6 a.m. until the off-leash time ends at 9 a.m., making it difficult for many people who work.
Joe Pisano, who lives three blocks from the park, has pushed the effort at the monthly Community Board 5 meetings since November. “More and more people in the neighborhood have dogs now and having three hours in the morning as the only legal off-leash just isn’t enough time for everybody… We’re just looking for the opportunity to enjoy our dogs in the park,” he said. “There’s something in that park for everyone except people with dogs.”
The battle over dogs in the Middle Village park goes back a number of years, to when the city Parks Department had an unofficial off-leash policy allowing dogs to run free from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. In 2006, the Juniper Valley Civic Association filed a lawsuit against the department on the grounds that the policy violated the city health code. The civic association was ultimately unsuccessful, but the lawsuit led to the formalizing of the Parks Department’s off-leash policy.
Now, members of the group Juniper Valley Park Dog Association including Pisano and Terri Sullivan are leading the effort to have a formal dog run area established in Juniper Valley Park. They would like it to be located in the same area currently used during the off-leash hours and are asking the Parks Department to simply erect a fence to enclose it.
“Now there are a lot of younger people who have a renewed energy and really want a dog park,” said Sullivan, who was involved in the prior battle with the JPCA over the issue. “I think it will happen, I just don’t know when.” She called it a natural progression from the off-leash law, which would be repealed in Juniper Valley Park if the dog run is created. “I do believe that it is a natural progression, but I know that the Juniper Civic doesn’t like changing Middle Village.”
However, JPCA President Robert Holden said that the association isn’t necessarily against the dog run, provided that it is done properly. He said that the area where the dogs currently go during the off-leash hours isn’t appropriate due to the proximity of about 30 large mature trees, which he said can be damaged by dog urine. Instead, he would like an area behind the bleachers near the roller hockey rink.
“I did some research and found that it is not a question of if the trees will be damaged – they will be,” he said. “The Juniper Civic is calling on Parks to save those trees, have the dogs immediately removed and the area they’re in now doesn’t become a run. They have done irreparable harm, and arborists have said there definitely shouldn’t be trees in a dog run. It is becoming a dirt area which kicks up. It is a health hazard at this point.”
The Parks Department “is working with the community to meet the needs of all our park patrons – both human and canine,” said a spokeswoman, who noted that while no formal proposal has been submitted for a dog area at Juniper Valley, there have been informal requests made. There are about 100 dog runs throughout the five boroughs, she said.
Community Board 5’s Parks Committee will hold a meeting on April 20 at the location in Juniper Valley currently used for off-leash hours “to try to figure out if there is something that’s better than the current situation,” said its district manager, Gary Giordano. He said the main problem might be finding a suitable location.
“One concern I have is that the current area is between two ballfields, so kids would be in the same vicinity.” While other locations might be more suitable, they likely would be closer to homes than the area currently used. “Even thought it is a big park, is there a perfect location? Probably not.”
In Holden’s opinion, the current location is clearly not appropriate. “You just don’t put a fence around a grassy area because it will quickly become a dirt area. I would hope the Parks Department would be a little more vigilant in protecting our natural resources and trees in general,” he said. “It is one of the nicest spots in the park for strolling, and you can’t avoid it.”
However, Pisano said the area Holden is suggesting near the hockey rink wouldn’t work because it is located in a crowded area near the walking track. Despite the obstacles that must be cleared, he vowed to continue the fight. “We just want to keep the pressure on. We’re not going to go away,” he said. “We’re building up the dog association, and there are more and more people now who are for it. I don’t want to demand anything, but I just don’t understand why it is so difficult.”