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Dog park proponents hope process speeds up

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By Corinne Westeman

Evergreen area residents trying to find a new location for a permanent off-leash dog park are frustrated that it’s taking so long to find space, and they want the county to establish an interim space in the meantime.

After Jeffco Open Space closed the Elk Meadow Dog Off-leash Area last spring, the Friends worked with JCOS, Evergreen Park & Recreation District and Evergreen Metropolitan District to identify sites for a new dog park and develop an innovative design that would mitigate many of the problems seen at Elk Meadow.

While Open Space remains in talks with the owners of the working group's first-choice site, Friends members said they expected to hear by early January whether the site was a go.

"It's early April, and still we have no answer," FEDP President Betsy Rich told the Jeffco Board of County Commissioners during public comment on April 10. "We're hopeful that we will get the land for our new park, but right now all we have is hope."

While the Friends are grateful for a working group’s efforts — especially Jeffco Open Space staff’s work in identifying potential sites — Vice President Doug Turner said, “This is taking too long, even for government.

“We’re trying to respect the process, but it’s a little bit frustrating. The target date for (the new park) was fall of 2019. At the current pace, it will be the fall of 2021.”

Turner also emphasized that, despite Open Space’s 54,000 acres, Jeffco doesn’t have a single inch dedicated to off-leash use.

Commissioner Casey Tighe said that it’s important for the entities to find a site sensibly, but also realistically. Because off-leash dog parks are so popular, there might need to be more than one site in the long run, he added

“I’m not fine with just paralysis by analysis and just waiting for the one,” Tighe said. “... We don’t want to pick a spot and five years from now have to close it again.”

At the meeting, the Friends got confirmation that the former Elk Meadow site, which was closed because of overuse, would be reopened as an on-leash site in about three years.

Jeffco Parks Director Tom Hoby said while the working group identified several sites, its first-choice location is greatly preferred to the next one. He described the alternate choice as a distant second because of its lack of access among other things.

Thus, Open Space is focusing its efforts on trying to acquire the first-choice site, he said, adding that he was meeting with the landowners for a third round of discussions. He initially submitted the working group’s proposal to the landowners last December and then met with them again in February.

The location of the site has not been revealed.

Hoby said there was too much use at the old site to sustain it as a regional facility. Thus, this new park needs to be more local.

He compared it to skating parks or other amenities that Open Space works with local partners to provide, and this dog park would be an identical model, likely with the help of both the Friends and EPRD.

Turner and Rich said they liked the working group’s first-choice site, and believe it would solve a lot of issues. Now, though, it’s a matter of all the cooperating entities doing due diligence to ensure the park would be successful if and when land is acquired, they said.

As for short-term off-leash options, Hoby said it wasn’t as simple as it sounded, as any site likely would see the same overuse that Elk Meadow did. Plus, the working group was unanimous in stating that JCOS sites weren’t good for temporary sites, Hoby said.

Commissioner Tina Francone asked if the Friends of Evergreen Dog Park tried to acquire private land on its own and run a private off-leash dog park.

Turner said the group had looked into a few sites, but starting a private dog park didn’t seem to be permitted based on the county’s regulations.

Commissioner Libby Szabo said the board and Jeffco staff would look into what it would take to change that, such as rezoning.

Contact reporter Corinne Westeman at 303-350-1043 or cwesteman@evergreenco.com, and follow her on Twitter @cwesteman.