The City of Gaithersburg will be looking into potential environmental impacts and mitigation if a one-acre dog park were to be created on a 4.7-acre lot adjacent to Lakelands Park. At their March 4 meeting, the Mayor and City Council asked staff to compile environmental data, including stormwater management, as well as budget data such as construction and annual maintenance costs for the proposed dog park.
“We felt it was a very positive meeting,” Karen Norris said. Norris is a Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) Board member who is working on the local dog park initiative.
“We understand it was a big request,” she added. “This would create a change from the prior plan. … We’re very happy the city is gathering more information.”
The city recently leased the site, which includes a 50-space parking lot, from Montgomery County and plans to use it for recreational purposes. A dog park was not part of the city’s original plans.
“We leased the property for a specific purpose,” Tony Tomasello, city manager, said at the March 4 meeting. “Our intention was to take the old basketball courts, tennis courts, all the hardscaping except the parking off the lot and just make it an open field because there’s lots of demand for open play in Kentlands/Lakelands.”
The county requested that no permanent structures be added to the site, which has been under consideration to relieve overcrowding at Rachel Carson Elementary School. The small size of the site and its topography, however, make it less than ideal.
In guidance to the Mayor and City Council, staff noted several concerns with adding a dog park to the site. These include “contribution of bacteria (due to pet waste) into local waters, notably the Muddy Branch stream.”
The dog park initiative is spearheaded by the KCA. Working with the Lakelands Community Association (LCA), the KCA launched an online survey to collect community feedback on the idea. Residents from Kentlands, Lakelands and 41 other communities were invited to share their thoughts between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23, 2018. Of the more than 700 survey respondents, approximately 85 percent (dog owners and non-dog owners) favored adding a dog park to the site; 513 respondents reside in Kentlands and Lakelands.
The KCA sent the survey report to the City of Gaithersburg on Dec. 18, 2018. On Feb. 12, 2019, the LCA Board decided to not join the KCA in its support of the dog park. Concerns about increased traffic and the survey sample were cited. Through Community Manager Michele Kennedy, the LCA Board declined to comment for this article.
Matt Song, a Lakelands resident, expressed no support for the dog park in an email to the Mayor and City Council. “As a Lakelands resident, I am very against the idea of creating a dog park using Lakelands land and using taxpayer money to support a very small but extremely vocal minority. A dog park only really benefits dog owners, and all the surveys that went out were basically targeted towards dog owners who of course, would love a free dog park,” he wrote.
Robert Beltowski also expressed no support for the dog park. “The city has been GREAT, with other dog parks around our city and I do not think we need another one,” he wrote to the Mayor and City Council.
Tessa Higgins expressed concern for the safety of those using the Lakelands Park amenities, should a dog park be added next door. “I think having lots of strange dogs come to the dog park and walk down the sidewalk which is surrounded by baseball/softball fields/picnic area could pose a potential risk for dog bites to young kids and families who are using those fields and who mingle on the sidewalks while they watch the games,” she wrote to the Mayor and City Council.
Norris, who doesn’t have a dog, recalled that as a newly elected Board member in 2017 she noticed the Board had received repeated requests for a community dog park. “I felt as an elected official it would be a good initiative for the Board to investigate, and I accepted responsibility to pursue that,” she said.
According to the City of Gaithersburg, Kentlands is home to some 5,631 residents (15 people per acre), and Lakelands is home to approximately 4,569 residents (14 people per acre). The two communities include 450 licensed dogs.
Lakelands resident Paul Self, whose family includes English bulldog Flash, said, “This is a very walkable community, and to be able to walk your dog to a park would be fantastic and add to quality of life.”
Self said that the dog park has broad support, and a number of community members have offered to donate money or pay a fee to defray its cost.
Lakelands resident Cindy Brown said that the dog park survey enjoyed the largest response of any city survey. She does not think that parking would be an issue near the site, and she believes that many dog owners would walk their pets to the park. “This would be a community activity for people who have dogs,” she said, one that would encourage socialization much like what occurs at neighborhood playgrounds. Another benefit might be less feces along sidewalks and fewer dogs illegally off-leash.
Lakelands resident Holly Star, who lives across the street from the proposed dog park site and spoke at the March 4 Mayor and City Council meeting, echoed Brown’s views. “I’m not concerned about parking,” she said. “This is a safety issue for pets. They need a safe place to play. … And the neighborhood would be cleaner.”
KCA Board member Yamil Hernandez, who worked with Norris to create the online survey, spoke at the March 4 meeting and told the Mayor and City Council that Montgomery Parks is looking for additional dog park locations. The 4.7-acre site adjacent to Lakelands Park is within Montgomery Parks’ up-county study area, but it is not a candidate location. This information can be found at www.montgomeryparks.org/uploads/2019/01/Upcounty-Map.jpg.
“People love their dogs,” Norris said after the March 4 meeting. “This would be a nice amenity that people would really appreciate.”