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Proposed Clayton Dog Park on DeMun Raises Hackles

Supporters say the facility would be an asset, while opponents argue it would disrupt the neighborhood.

Supporters of a proposed dog park along a section of DeMun Avenue in Clayton are endorsing a proposal to pair the city with , which has offered part of its property as a possible site.

But more than 200 residents who live near the site don't think that's such a great idea. They have signed a petition in opposition to the project. Meanwhile, the city has distributed a survey that likely will play a key role in determining whether the plans advance.

Under the proposal, Concordia Seminary would provide roughly an acre and a half of grassy space on which visitors could let their pooches run leash-free, said Patty DeForrest, the city's parks and recreation director. The privately funded park would be surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and probably cost between $60,000 and $80,000, she said.

In mid-November the city sent its survey to residents who live around Concordia Seminary. The  is expected to review the results at its Jan. 3 meeting, though it's not clear if the commission will vote on whether to move forward with the plan at that time.

The idea of building a dog park is not new. Clayton residents have been talking about it since the late 1990s. The issue again resurfaced in part because of supporters' organizing efforts and in part because of increased interest in creating such facilities nationwide, DeForrest said.

Survey data gathered in February reveals the issue's persistence, De Forrest said. Forty-five percent of respondents characterized dog parks as important, and 25 percent said a dog park was among their top three priorities.

"There is certainly community support for a dog park," DeForrest said. Some sites, such as Oak Knoll Park and Wydown Park, have already become "de facto dog parks," she added. Those locations require dogs to be leashed.

So far the apparent support hasn't yielded a park. Officials hoped the overhaul of Highway 40 might make available chunks of land for park space. Clayton and Richmond Heights considered partnering on such a project. But at the end of construction in Dec. 2009, that kind of land still wasn't available.

What's more, DeForrest said, dog parks in St. Louis area communities such as Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights and Maplewood are next to highways, major structures or transportation hubs not residential property. That kind of space is difficult to come by amid the urban density of Clayton. 

It's unclear what will happen if the parks commission, Concordia — or both — decide against pursuing the project. The city might look again at existing park land, DeForrest said.

And the dog park debate could be moot anyway, since the commission and city's Board of Aldermen have both told supporters there's no public money for the project and it is not a top priority. 

Clayton resident Deb Dubin has been working to build support for a dog park over the past 18 months. She got involved after having several conversations with former Mayor Ben Uchitelle — also a proponent of the dog park — during walks with her golden retriever puppy, Summer.

"Dogs need to run, and a lot of cities like Clayton have leash laws," she said.

The two brainstormed and decided to make a formal proposal. With minimal outreach, she said, they and others collected the names of more than 160 families who support the dog park. Dubin said the facility could serve as "a lovely amenity" to a special city. She said she recognizes the need to collaborate with people who live in the Hi-Pointe/DeMun neighborhood, where the dog park would be located.

"We want to make sure all of the stakeholders have input," Dubin said.

She pointed out the park would be built to blend in with the surrounding area. In order to use the park, visitors might be required to file a permit with the city as part of an effort to limit congestion, and they would be required to clean up after their dogs.

If the project is approved, organizers would aim to pay for it using private funding, Dubin said. But supporters would welcome financial support from the city if it were offered.

Ward I Alderman Andrea Maddox-Dallas has two Yorkshire terriers. Still, she said it's important to be sensitive to the concerns of people living in the Hi-Pointe/DeMun neighborhood, which she represents. One issue is the question of how the dog park would change the use of a space now inhabited by — well, humans.

"What do the people who are going to be impacted the most feel about it?" Maddox-Dallas said.

Ray Jaeger is one such resident. He bought a house on DeMun Ave. in 1988 and said he can't see how a dog park would bring any value to the community.

Concordia Park, next to which the proposed park would lie, is one of a limited number of open spaces in Clayton. To "carve off" a section of land —which has traditionally been used by the public— for a group of 200 private citizens, Jaeger said, would open up a number of problems.

"Clayton is so limited in its open space, why would you close it again?" Jaeger said.

He said that he and many of his neighbors — more than 200 people in all — have expressed concerns about issues such as safety hazards that might be posed by dogs and increased congestion on DeMun Ave. Jaeger said he expressed his views in the city survey, which he received by mail.

There's no room for compromise, in Jaeger's view. It's a dog park, and it would be an eyesore.  What's more, he said, people like Uchitelle —who has been among those most vocally in favor of the park— don't even live in the area that would be affected.

"It wasn't initiated by a bunch of people in this neighborhood," Jaeger said.

Uchitelle acknowledges the part of the city in question includes people against and for the project. He said he's limiting his comments until the results of the survey become public.

He'd love to have a dog facility in Oak Knoll Park, which is the closest park to his home, and there are other possible locations around the city. The effort to work with Concordia Seminary represents one part of "a long saga," Uchitelle said, and if the neighbors don't want it, proponents will pursue other options.

President Dale Meyer of Concordia Seminary said Uchitelle and Dubin approached him about whether the seminary would be open to pursuing a park. He agreed to consider the idea, and so did the school's board of regents. Concordia Seminary agreed to be involved as a good corporate citizen, Meyer said. But based on the reactions of people who live in the neighborhood, he said, it might not be in their best interest or Concordia's to pursue the idea further.

"It's looking like this dog won't hunt," Meyer said.

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