After what Westbrook officials are calling a “false start” on the city’s first dog park project, a $25,000 donation from Idexx Laboratories will allow the park to grow significantly.
But, some officials still aren’t sold on the plans, arguing that the city should spend more time to develop the project.
Last month, dog owners got a brief taste of a dog park in Bicentennial Park after a fence was erected, but the gate was padlocked soon after. There were no trash receptacles, dog-waste bag dispensers or signage, and the city had already received complaints about dog owners not picking up after their pets. There were also complaints that the park was just too small.
Now, due to the Idexx donation, plans include a larger fence that will form an L-shape around the existing fence, creating separate spaces for large and small dogs, as well as trash bins, benches and landscaping.
The City Council voted 5-2 Monday to approve the new purchases and installation of fencing, benches and waste stations. The additional fencing will cost $8,500, while the remaining items will cost $5,610. The city had spent $6,800 on the existing fence. The remaining funds will be used for landscaping.
A spokesman from Idexx confirmed with the city last week the company’s committment to funding the dog park.
“Idexx is pleased to partner with the city on the creation of a dog park for the local community,” said Peter DeWitt, director of communications and community relations. “Our intent is to provide funding in the amount of $25,000 in early 2017 to support this important effort. We look forward to the next steps and hope it will be well received.”
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Monday that although the City Council approved the dog park project in October 2015, there were no dedicated funds in place to build it. As progess on the park stalled, Westbrook residents grew impatient.
Bryant said that in response, the fenced-in area was created, but after only a few days the city received a number of complaints. Bryant said he had hoped to acquire funding from Idexx, and also worked closely with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland to discuss the new design.
He called the Idexx funds, “a great contribution to the community.”
Councilors John O’Hara and Gary Rairdon voted against the measure Monday, arguing that even the expanded project felt rushed. O’Hara said an opportunity for a great community space will “slip by us” with the proposal. He said Westbrook could create a larger space and utilize more of the surrounding land to make the project similar to Quarry Run in Portland, a sprawling area on a former landfill off Ocean Avenue.
“Even this doesn’t mirror what Portland has,” he said Monday of the expanded design. “Dog owners have not been asked what a dog park needs, but plenty of administrators have been asked.”
O’Hara, a dog owner, said he’s visited a number of dog parks in Greater Portland, and he doesn’t believe he’d use the Westbrook park. He said a committee including dogowners should have been formed to design the park, which could cut trails through wooded areas for dogs to roam.
Rairdon said he’d rather wait and build something the community can be proud of.
Other councilors, however, said Westbrook dog owners have waited long enough for a park, and that the Idexx funds will allow for a worthwhile project in the downtown location. Bicentennial Park, next to Hannaford, off William Clarke Drive, was chosen due to its proximity to downtown and an existing parking lot. The city’s skate park is located in the rear of the parcel.
The dog park project comes after years of requests from the public and conversation among officials about where such a park would be located. When the Downtown Westbrook Coalition recently held its “visioning” session for the city’s future, a dog park was listed multiple times by residents.
Councilor Michael Foley said rejecting the project would be “bureacracy impeding progress.” He argued that if there was a desire to create a committee and spend more time on a design, the council should have done so in June, when they voted to allow administration to purchase the original fencing.
“I’ve seen parks exactly like this all over the country,” he said, adding that Old Orchard Beach has a park very similar to Westbrook’s proposal.
Foley said a committee could instead be formed to look at establishing another dog park in the northern end of the city, which had been discussed at previous meetings.
Councilor Victor Chau said in order to create a park with the amenities suggested by O’Hara, the project would need more funding.
Residents also spoke in favor of the design Monday, including Ann Bainbridge, who said the new design is “adequate for our needs.”
“We don’t need to compete with Portland,” she said. “We don’t have as many dogs.”
Resident Kathleen Worcester also agreed that the park plan should move ahead.
“We’re trying to respond to something that’s been requested for a long time,” Bryant said to the council, referring to the park. “If this isn’t want you want, please don’t vote for this.”
He said they were hoping for a quick approval in order to complete the park this fall. If the project passes a second reading this month, work will move ahead.
The next issue at hand, Bryant said, is maintenance. The city’s Department of Public Services will collect trash, but an ordinance will be in place to require residents to pick up after their dogs.
Westbrook will receive $25,000 from Idexx Laboratories toward an expanded dog park project in Bicentennial Park. The city installed a small fenced-in area last month, which was quickly criticized by residents, and remains closed.