Saturday, September 19, 2009

Results of Survey About Dog Park at Reed Ave Open Space


View Reed Avenue Dog Park? in a larger map

The survey we talked about previously here is now closed. After about 2 weeks, we had 112 completed surveys. Complete survey a results, including all of the comments left by participants are available here.

A Little Analysis of the Results

Here is a little bit of breakdown that you can't get just by looking at the summary numbers. First off, 66% of people, overall, said that a configuration of the space including a dog-park is most-preferred alternative. The split between those that want a dog park and those that don't include it as a top choice breaks convincingly between people that want to see something done soon and those that want to plan and come up with something big. Let me explain:

78% of respondents prefer to do something in the near-term. Of those 78%, 81% prefer that the end result include at least some portion fenced-in dog park as their first choice. However, of the 22% of respondents that would prefer to wait, plan, and come up with something big for the space, 85% did not choose a result that included a fenced-in dog park as their first choice. In fact, of that group, 53% said a fenced-in dog park is their least preferred alternative.

One of the benefits of the way that splits is that we might be able to appease both groups. A dog park is a relatively low-cost alternative compared to landscaping, playgrounds, or other more formal open space configurations. The City has stated that it will be several years before they have the resources to plan and execute something with this space. The City's Open Space Coordinator, Laura Durham, ran down the current plans for the future of this space:
With an opportunity for funding in the future, staff will initiate a community park planning process with the Park and Recreation Commission. This planning process will not occur in the immediate future, though the property will be available to the public as open space when it is fully decommissioned by VA Power.
With city approval, we could utilize the space for a fenced-in dog park for several years before a larger planning effort can take place to convert the space to something else. Based on what I've seen in the City budget, the "opportunity for funding" is a long way off.

Dogs Don't Walk Themselves
Some of the dog park dissenters expressed disdain with utilizing open space for the benefit of dogs, stating that parks should be for people, dogs don't pay taxes, etc. Here are 2 examples (by far the minority, but worth discussing):
I wasn't aware that dogs were paying taxes. Asdog owners who have chosen not to provide their own private property for their dog to play in/on a dog owner and property owner, I am tired of my tax dollars being spent to take care of those . Chain link fencing is cheap and unattractive looking and will do nothing to help property values... Let's start spending tax dollars on actual tax paying residents.
and
Do dogs pay taxes? Then why are we building parks for them? And please don't try to equate dogs with children. Our children will grow up to pay more than their fair share of taxes -- our dogs won't.
The problem with these comments is they don't take into account the fact that the dog is a driving factor in getting the owner outside to enjoy the open space. 50% of dog owners that took the survey use a fenced-in dog park at least once week, with 69% using a fenced-in dog park at least once a month. People take their dogs to the park to get some exercise and they themselves get some exercise, while availing themselves the opportunity to chat with neighbors. The dog owner benefits nearly as much as the dog, and the dog owner most certainly pays taxes. And several years ago, Alexandria raised its dog licensing fees specifically to pay for dog parks.

Aesthetic Details
I'll keep discussion of aesthetics short. 56% of respondents said they'd want to see a wrought-iron type fence if a dog park is installed. Another 33% don't care between a wrought-iron and chain link fence. Chain link is, of course, much cheaper, but more landscaping is required to make it look nicer -- and that adds cost. As for leaving the rectangular hedge of gangly-looking pine trees instead of replacing them with smaller trees, about half the respondents said no, the other half said maybe or yes. I personally think what probably should be done is to remove some of the trees so it's not like a 30' tall wall-like hedge, but leave the healthier specimens in place to retain some of the shade they provide. These then could be supplemented with some smaller trees. In hindsight, based on the comments we received, we should have also included a question regarding mulch versus gravel and grass, but that can be left for further discussions should we go forward.

Don't Give the People What They Don't Want...

Now we'll take a look at what people don't want instead of what they do. The plurality doesn't want yet another empty and purposeless open space, with 43% or respondents being most unhappy if we did nothing. There is a noticeable contingent that does not want a dog park: 21% of survey takers. Of these, 75% of that group does not have a dog, but of non dog-owners overall, 48% include an option with the fenced-in dog park as their top choice for the space. 19% don't want to see an unfenced dog exercise area. On a space located by the intersection of two arterial roads an unfenced dog area is not really a logical alternative -- especially given that, of the 20 dog exercise areas in the city, there are only 4 fenced-in dog parks.

Least Preferred Option of Those Given
21% All fenced-in dog park.
13% All landscaped
19% All unfenced dog exercise area.
43% Remains grassy area
4% All Others

Any Other Ideas?
The survey was intended to get an idea of how much interest people had in turning the area into a dog park. If resources were not an issue, we could have a survey that includes any and all options. But resources are limited and truthfully, if anything gets done here, it will require donated materials and volunteer work. The good news is that these are things that we think we can get.

As for other options, one or two respondents expressed interest in more athletic fields, but this site is far too small for any kind of athletic field, so that is not a viable option. One neighbor requested that we consider a labyrinth, but the cost of hardscape or manicured landscaping would likely be prohibitive as a short-term option. The long-term solution could include a labyrinth as part of a larger landscaped space -- a very interesting idea. We did not include a playground as an option since there are three within 1-2 blocks of the site.

We also did not include a community garden as an option. 5 commenters expressed interest in a community garden, but at only 1/2 acre, the space is fairly small for that purpose. There are portions of Four Mile Run Park that would provide more utility as a community garden, in part because they could use gray-water runoff from Cora Kelly Magnet School as a water source instead of fresh water from the spigot on site at the Reed Ave open space. With the development of a fenced-in dog park at the Reed Ave open space, the unfenced exercise area in Four Mile Run Park could be removed and a similarly sized plot could be used as a community garden. Also, eliminating a dog exercise are within Four Mile Run Park removes the risk of fecal coliform bacteria from running off into the stream.

Long Story Short and Next Steps
The fenced-in dog park is an extremely popular idea. Other great ideas were brought up, but the dog park is one of the few feasible short-term options due to its low cost to set up and maintain (especially if it's mulched). It is certainly not a lock to occur, even if we can cover 100% of costs. The city has a set of guidelines for Dog Parks (Draft copy - 1.4MB PDF) and the Reed Ave site is borderline on size and proximity to residential property according to that document. Our police community liaison officer mentioned it as an idea and Kevin and I ran with it, thinking it would increase the "eyes on the street" in our area, act as a crime deterrent, and bring something positive to the neighborhood. We had people offer e-mail addresses and phone numbers so they could lend a hand with the effort, which will be a big help. We'll also need to find some kind of sponsorship to get a fence installed. We need to work with the adjacent Glebe House Apartments to make sure whatever we do, we consider the neighbors and screen the property with trees. We will begin a planning process of our own as soon as possible. Contact me if you're interested in participating in coming up with and, maybe executing, a plan (nickdeuva@gmail.com).
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