Prop 178: Dog Park Ordinance

Tonight, Proposal 178 passed out of the Parks Committee to the full council with a “do pass” recommendation 4-3. I voted no, and want to explain why I feel like this proposal is a long stride in the wrong direction for Indianapolis.

The full proposal can be read below, but I pasted a relevant excerpt below.

“The following minimum standards shall apply to all areas under the jurisdiction or control of the department of parks and recreation, which areas are designated as off-leash areas by the board of parks and recreation on or after August 1, 2017: (a) the areas shall be no less than one acre in size; (b) the areas shall be completely and securely enclosed by a fence at least five feet in height; (c) there shall be a double-gate system to prevent dogs from escaping when other dogs and their owners are entering or leaving the area; (d) there shall be at least one water source, such as a water fountain, for the dogs; (e) supplies for feces removal and covered containers for feces disposal shall be provided; (f) at least one overstory shade or evergreen tree per 5,000 square feet of area; (g) adequate benches and/or tables; Proposal No. 178, 2017 Page 2 (h) informational signs displaying rules of the off-leash area and its boundaries; (i) access for people with disabilities; (j) adequate lighting; (k) adjacent parking; (l) adequate drainage to minimize muddy conditions and ponding of urine; and (m) if the off-leash area is near a residential area, a buffer zone such as hedges, trees, and land forms to minimize noise…”

Don Colvin of Indy Parks did an eloquent job of explaining why the Indy Parks has serious concerns with this proposal. (You can watch the full Parks & Recreation Committee meeting here as soon as it is posted.) I’ll summarize some of his thoughts and add a few of my own.

The biggest problem is the 1 acre minimum requirement. Indianapolis currently has four IndyParks dog parks, and none near downtown. There are numerous examples of successful dog parks that utilize less than an acre of land. While natural turf becomes problematic in smaller spaces (as in the Broad Ripple Bark Park, where we are planning to switch to turf), there are many other available surfaces that can be functional (concrete, pea gravel, astroturf, etc) and easier to maintain. Because of the high cost of land and meager potential revenue generated by dog parks, passing this ordinance would all but guarantee that there would never be a public dog park available to burgeoning downtown and midtown neighborhoods. While this ordinance does only include Indy Parks, many privately funded parks are donated to Indy Parks for future management. So if Lilly, Salesforce, Cummins, or any other company wishes  to invest in the community this way, they would need to make a permanent commitment to not only build the park but also run it in perpetuity. It makes no sense to me to box ourselves in as a city this way.

Similarly, the water and tree restrictions make an already-costly amenity extremely expensive to build and maintain. Urination on trees can easily be fatal, especially to smaller trees. Consequently, trees could require fencing (4-8 foot from the tree) to keep them alive until they the roots are mature enough to handle the urine. Planting mature trees to avoid the hassle and expense of fencing is extremely costly. The water lines are similarly difficult. While all of these requirements certainly make dog parks better and should be considered when building any dog facility, making them necessary requirements throws up more obstacles to an already difficult process. Every project should be evaluated on its own merit, and every neighborhood should continue to have the strongest voice in what happens in their own property.

Dog parks can be a wonderful community amenity. It is imperative that we keep as many options available as possible for Indianapolis to create and enjoy them. I view this bill as unnecessary and prohibitive. Every neighborhood deserves the chance to determine their own fate when it comes to dog parks, and we should allow Indy Parks to operate in the way that maximizes opportunities and ability to grow. From a pragmatic standpoint, I have no idea why the Council would pass something that our own Parks Department opposes. Tom McCain, president of Friends of Broad Ripple Park, also opposes it, as well as the Downtown Indy Dog Park Coalition. This raises an important question. Why are we pushing something that the biggest dog park supporters in Indianapolis oppose?