Effort to create off-leash dog park founders

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By AJ Vicens

Efforts to establish an off-leash dog park on Foothills Park & Recreation District property apparently are dead in their tracks.

Foothills Executive Director Ron Hopp confirmed that discussions between the district and Lynda Fine, the main proponent of a South Jeffco off-leash park, are on hold at best — or completely scuttled, at worst.

"We decided to take a break from looking at (potential sites for the dog park) until we could find a viable, collaborative community partner," Hopp said.

Hopp said the decision to halt the effort was the result of opposition to the site that district staff proposed — and the way that Fine voiced her disappointment during negotiations and in the media.

"We definitely had the expectation that we'd have a positive, long-lasting relationship (with Fine), and the comments made publicly were certainly indicative of not being able to have a positive, long-lasting relationship," Hopp said.

Fine, whose disappointment in the situation is hard to understate, has been working to get an off-leash park built in the area since late 2008. She created Foothills Unleashed, a nonprofit organized to manage the dog park, and was able to secure a $125,000 Conservation Trust Fund to build the park.

Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky said the $125,000 grant will now go to either a bicycle/walking path near Red Rocks Community College or for work on trails near Conifer.

Fine originally proposed using land near Sgt. Timothy Mossbrucker Memorial Park for the off-leash park, but Foothills suggested a possible site in Robert Easton Regional Park as a better fit because of its access to water and parking and because it wasn’t as close to neighboring homes.

Opposition sprouted up from a nearby neighborhood, with residents concerned about water contamination and increased traffic, among other things. Fine said Hopp and the board caved into the neighbors' demands too quickly, and that she was put on the defensive at public hearings.

In a Sept. 11 letter to Hopp and the Foothills board of directors, Fine said the board didn't listen to evidence refuting the opponents’ complaints.

"I felt like it was all about the opposition the entire time," Fine wrote to the board. "This has been, at best, an extremely disheartening event. The citizens of Foothills District lost out on a positive addition to their community."

"It was constantly about the opposition," Fine said in a Sept. 15 interview. Fine called a June 4 public hearing with the board a "mob session" at which dog park detractors were allowed to boo her as she spoke. Another hearing July 14 went the same way, she said.

"I don't feel like we were heard," Fine said. "We were begging these people to listen to the facts."

Hopp doesn't see it that way.

"The opposition clearly was more vocal than the advocates, and Lynda or anybody had ample opportunity to come forward to defend their position or refute any information brought by the opposition," Hopp said. "When it really counted at the public hearing when discussing alternative sites, at meetings where people could get up and voice opposition, the advocates were not present as strong as the opposition."

Fine said her efforts to establish an off-leash park are likely at an end.

"Never say never, but let's just say it'd be a stretch for me to ever approach that group again," Fine said. "I'm disappointed, but I'm OK with it. You can't force these things, and this just wasn't the time for it."

Hopp said he's disappointed as well, because he truly wants an off-leash park somewhere in the Foothills district.

"We do believe that there is a need for a dog park in the area," Hopp said. "We think it would relieve pressure on other sites, and personally I think it would be an asset for the community."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.