Town Board supports expanding current dog park site in Peconic

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Several dozen dogs of all shapes and sizes enjoyed an afternoon of play at the Spring Games in Peconic on Saturday afternoon. The event was the first in a series of Dog Park Parties scheduled for Saturday afternoons between 1:00 - 3:00 at the park behind the Recreation Center.

Southold Town has switched gears in its search for a possible dog park site.

The town’s land preservation committee has nixed several suggested locations because they were acquired for passive recreation using Community Preservation Fund money. Town Board members have now set their sights on expanding and improving the existing small dog park behind the town recreation center on Peconic Lane.

The push for a place where dogs can run free, yet supervised, took form this past winter after North Fork School for Dogs co-owner Dawn Bennett circulated a petition asking the town to use one of many of its preserved properties for a fenced-in park where dogs can socialize together without being leashed.

Land preservation committee chairman John Sepenoski told the Town Board at a work session Tuesday that the initial request he received read that dog owners were seeking a two-thirds-acre site, when in fact they were seeking a two- to three-acre site. Board members said they’re not in favor of setting aside such a large area for dogs.

“That would be unrealistic in any scenario,” said Supervisor Scott Russell.

“I don’t think I would commit to three acres,” said Councilman Chris Talbot. “I’ve never seen the current park overcrowded. I would never consider bringing my dog to a dog park. It’s a different mind-set.”

“I don’t think we have three acres available,” Councilman Vincent Orlando added. “We would have to acquire something and put it as active recreation.”

“We’re not in a position where we can create something new,” said Councilman Bill Ruland. “We have to consider the financial priorities of the town … The 2012 budget issues give a lot more credence to the idea that we already have something. Can we enhance and expand it versus starting from scratch?”

Mr. Russell said one of the sites the town had considered for the dog park was a meadow next door to Custer Institute on Main Bayview Road in Southold. But that site was also preserved with the intent of passive recreation by a broad section of the community, not for active recreation for dogs.

Mr. Sepenoski said the town’s hiking trails, where dogs must be leashed, are being used extensively by dog owners, who often don’t clean up after their pets.

Mr. Talbot said he likes the idea of expanding the Peconic dog park and doing a better job maintaining it.

“It’s like a hot box,” he said. “There’s no shade. It’s dusty and dirty.”

Mr. Sepenoski has drawn up a plan to expand the Peconic Lane park, providing shade trees and park benches to the barren stretch of grass, which Ms. Bennett has said is little more than a dog run.

Ms. Bennett, who attended Tuesday’s work session, said she hopes the town sets and enforces rules for an expanded park.

“Space is the biggest issue now,” she said. “But there are no restrictions on who or what can go there. It’s being used as a cattery. Eight cats are being dropped off at the dog park in the morning. You need a set of rules. You’re so open for a lawsuit. You’re at your own risk.”

She added that shade trees should be placed along the park’s perimeter so excited dogs don’t run into them and hurt themselves.

“We have nowhere to run our dogs off leash, but beggars can’t be choosers,” she said. “We’d be happy for anything.”

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