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Foothills dog park on hold - for now

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By AJ Vicens

Advocates pushing for a dog park at South Jeffco's Robert Easton Park have been rebuffed and will have to find a new site.

The proposal was opposed by residents of the neighboring Waters Edge subdivision, leading Foothills Park & Recreation District officials to scrap the idea and start over. Now the district is eyeing a portion of Jeffco Open Space land controlled by the district at the Fehringer Ranch property near the intersection of Highway 285 and South Simms Street.

It's been a long and difficult road for Lynda Fine, who has been advocating for a dog park to be built within Foothills Park & Recreation District boundaries since November 2008. In those nine months, she formed Foothills Unleashed as a nonprofit to raise funds for a dog park, with two specific locations being discussed: Sgt. Timothy M. Mossbrucker Memorial Park and Robert Easton Regional Park.

Foothills staff said the Mossbrucker site was too small and recommended the dog park be placed at one of two sites within Easton Park, citing the proximity to water in Hine Lake and the land the dog park would occupy couldn't be used for much else. Fine also landed a $125,000 grant from state conservation trust funds for the project.

The plan was moving forward with relative ease until a June 4 public meeting to discuss the idea. Supporters of the park showed up, but so did opponents, mostly from the nearby Waters Edge subdivision. Resistance from the Waters Edge homeowners and dog park not being listed in Easton Park's original master plan stopped the dog park dead in its tracks.

"In general, because there was enough opposition to the sites we were considering, I suggested to the board that we abandon those sites from consideration," said Foothills Park & Recreation District Executive Director Ron Hopp. "We should move on to consider different sites that would be helpful and not be met with as much opposition."

Jill Nunes, the chair of the Foothills Park & Recreation District Board of Directors, agreed with Hopp that Easton Regional Park wouldn't work. Once the opposition to the proposed park was voiced, along with the lack of a dog park in Easton Park's master plan, the proposal lost most of its steam, she said.

"But it's definitely not a dead issue," Nunes said. "We definitely want to talk about it more. If all the requirements are met and we can find a viable location, at least we can look again and make a good decision after another public process."

Fine was surprised that Hopp pulled support of the Easton Park site, considering that he and his staff were the ones who picked it.

"They picked it because it had all the elements," Fine said. "There's a minority of people holding this thing up." In fact, Fine read a letter to the board in mid-July imploring them not to "cave in ... to this small misinformed group of protesters," who attacked the plan without knowing the full proposal. "It takes a strong board to be able to decipher irrational fears from legitimate concerns."

Fine is not giving up. On July 28, she presented the Foothills Board of Directors a packet of research including nearly 500 signatures on a petition supporting a dog park in the Foothills district, data on how dog parks blend into various types of communities, studies on the levels of contamination from dog parks into nearby water sources, information on how property values wouldn't be negatively impacted, and dozens of examples of volunteer groups across the state and country operating and maintaining dog parks.

The Fehringer Ranch property was one of the sites Hopp and his staff almost chose the first time around, except that doesn't have the infrastructure that Easton Regional Park did.

A parking lot would need to be built, and a water source would have to be found to satisfy county regulations on dog parks. Hopp said the district is planning to ask Jeffco leaders for an exemption on the water requirement if the Fehringer Ranch site makes it through the public comment portion.

Fine said that the Fehringer Ranch site is OK, but it's too far north for many people in South Jeffco, and she's not sure the $125,000 grant she obtained would cover the expenses to make improvements to the land such as adding fencing, parking, water and tables.

Hopp said that the timeline on any dog park within district boundaries is hard to identify.

"In essence, we're kind of starting this process over again," Hopp said.

Fine worries that the board is not going to follow through on creating a dog park. Critics' worries about dog parks are overblown, Fine said.

"If the people would just give it a chance and see what they're all about," Fine said. "Maybe they should go visit them. They're the happiest places on earth."

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