Jul 28, 2014
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Residents to Vote on Dog Park at Happy Landings

Selectmen support the use of open space but call town meeting for final decision.

After hearing from Keith Wolff and Lisa Allan, two Brookfielders , and a number of dissenting residents, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) expressed unanimous support for the Conservation Commission’s suggestion of locating the park at Happy Landings. However, anticipating the public’s interest, the selectmen also moved to schedule a town meeting to put the proposal to a vote.

In crafting the motion, First Selectman Bill Davidson noted that their support of Conservation’s recommendation was only a means of stating their individual positions for the record and not a binding approval.

“If we vote yes, we’ll see a petition for a town meeting; if we vote no, we’ll see a petition for a town meeting, so let’s let the town decide if they want a dog park at Happy Landings,” Davidson said.

The BOS voted unanimously to schedule the town meeting, which has been set for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28, in the (BHS) auditorium.

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“I have no real objection to Happy Landings and I had no real objection to Gurski,” Selectman Howard Lasser said, referencing , which was , which . “This is a good use of open space, wherever it happens to land. We have a commission that has made a recommendation to us and I see no reason to object to that recommendation.”

Selectman George Walker agreed, in part.

“A dog park in this town in the long term would be very positive,” he said. However, “I’m not sold on Happy Landings, quite frankly.”

Walker requested more information about why the Gurski property was rejected and, upon reading a copy of the letter from the state, said he would like to revisit that possibility.

“I’d like to keep the Gurski option open,” he said, adding that he would look into it further at the state level.

Questions Dogging the Process

In answer to questions from the BOS and members of the audience during the preceding public comment [see video above], Wolff attempted to assuage some fears about the town’s potential liability.

“The state statutes of Connecticut basically say that each dog owner or caregiver is responsible, is liable for any damage that a dog does to a person or another dog,” he explained.

“This is not a significant liability situation,” Davidson agreed. “First because of the law,” he said, however, “You look at the number of things the town does — 50 kids on a school bus in the snow, heavy trucks on the highways, the town beach — the potential liability here is pretty far down on the pecking order.”

Davidson said he was initially more concerned about whether a dog park would be an appropriate use of open space.

“I reached out to the Department of Environmental Protection [DEEP] and the National Parks Service and both of those bodies said that they would give grant money for a dog park, and have, for open space,” he reported, noting that those agencies “wouldn’t give it if it was forested, but would for a situation like Happy Landings.”

Davidson was also interested in the long-term financial plan for continued maintenance of the property, which is to be funded and manned by a committee of private citizens.

“I’m less concerned about your initial capital plan — I’m more concerned about how you’d fund for three, four, five years out,” he said. If the voters ultimately decide to support the location, “We would not let you proceed until we were comfortable with whatever economic plan you brought forth.”

“It’s about institutionalizing the process,” Lasser added, to ensure that the taxpayers don’t end up with the burden down the road.

“That’s the biggest issue,” Wolff agreed, as volunteers’ attentions can fade. “In New Milford — they’ve been in business for two years — they benefited from a wealthy donor that basically gave them enough money to be an operating budget for several years out.”

Once the location and plan are in place, Wolff and the other committee members plan to start an aggressive funding campaign, tapping local residents and pet-affiliated businesses, as well as national funding sources that support these projects.

“We need a plan first… we need approval before we can get donors to come in,” he explained.

According to Wolff, the major cost will be the fence, estimated at about $20,000 to surround just shy of an acre. The remaining money raised would be put toward operating expenses, such as repairs, bags for picking up waste and trash pickup.

“The challenge is to keep people interested,” he said. “People will fall out, but I think other people will come in to contribute. I think it will always be a work in progress.”

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