Bigger dog park plan moves forward

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WESTBROOK — A proposal to bring a larger dog park to the corner of William Clarke and Hannaford could go before the City Council next month, two years  after the City Council narrowly rejected a similar proposal.

The plan by Bridge Street resident Mike Lahr is like the first proposal in its size and scope, but it has something the initial plan didn’t have: community input.

The original plan called for two areas for dogs to play in, but only the smaller section was built. The resulting park, Lahr said, is underused and not kept up well.

Lahr said he goes to the Valley Street Dog Park in Portland because it is bigger and has more people and dogs for his 1½-year-old dog, Neo, to play with. A larger dog park on William Clarke Drive could bring that social aspect to Westbrook.

“I didn’t go into this with a certain vision, but as it’s progressed, I’ve become aware that this will be a huge addition to the community,” he said of the park, which was designed through meeting with local residents and input from members of the Westbrook Dog Park Facebook group.

His park plan, which includes several benches, trash cans and waste receptacles and new shade trees, is expected to cost upwards of $35,000, he said.

Idexx has has agreed to contribute $25,000 for the park if the City Council approves the plan.

Lahr is drafting a letter to send to businesses asking for contributions, has created a fundraising committee and set up a A GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/westbrook-barks). He’s also looking for grant opportunities.

Lahr will meet with the Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Commission Thursday, Jan. 17, to talk about the project. He anticipates presenting it to the City Council Monday, Feb. 4.

Lahr would like to open the park as early as April. The first phase of the project would include the trees, benches and space for dogs to run and play. The second phase would include lighting and a gazebo. It also includes a water source so dogs can have fresh water and be bathed there; the waterline would have to be extended from Hannaford to do that.

The existing dog park, which opened in 2017, was part of a larger dog park proposal that was to be funded through a donation from Idexx. Even though the idea passed muster at first reading in September 2016, the council at its Oct. 3, 2016, meeting reversed course and rejected it 4-3.

Opposition at that time was led by then-Councilor John O’Hara, who argued   that too few dog owners had been asked about what they’d like to see in a park. He also said the city should wait and evaluate the best possible use of the property – possibly creating a destination dog park using more of the city-owned land and a variety of terrain.

“It’s just the wrong design,” O’Hara he said at the October 2016 meeting. “We need to take a step back and take a look at what other communities have done. When we create something, we do it once and do it right.”

The design of the expanded dog park was also opposed by now-Council President Gary Rairdon and then-Councilor Mike Sanphy. Rairdon said he’d rather wait and “build something the community can be proud of.”

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Plans for an expanded dog park in Westbrook could come before the City Council next month. The design for the park is an updated version of the one the council narrowly rejected in October 2016.