Notes from City Council Dog Park Worksession

Tuesday – September 10, 2013- 4:00 p.m.
First Floor North Conference Room - City Hall

Worksession 

Present: Mayor Terry M. Bellamy, Presiding; Vice-Mayor Esther E. Manheimer; Councilman Cecil Bothwell; Councilman Jan B. Davis; Councilman Marc W.  Hunt; Councilman Christopher A. Pelly; Councilman Gordon D. Smith; City Manager Gary W. Jackson; Interim City Attorney Martha Walker-McGlohon; and City Clerk Magdalen Burleson

Absent:  None

Recorded by City Clerk Magdalen Burleson

North Asheville Dog Park

Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball said that this is a high level overview of the North Asheville dog park process to date.  She said the City prepared a Parks Master Plan that direct and guide staff.  The Plan notes that it is a low priority to add new parks unless they meet certain criteria.  That is because of the limited resources staff has.  The Plan also shows shortages and needs in each of the areas.  In the north Asheville area, the Plan recommends that continue to maintain existing parks; look for opportunities to add additional park components and amenities to existing parks; and if possible, add a neighborhood park to the north end of the sub-area.  She noted that the Plan designates north Asheville as north of W.T. Weaver Boulevard.  City Council also adopted its Strategic Plan which an outcome of a dog park in north Asheville would be where people can enjoy a high quality of life.  Finally, there is a budget process that identifies capital projects, prioritizing them, and making recommendations.  She showed the 5-year capital budget, honing in on what was in the Parks & Recreation budget. 

Regarding the issue of the dog park in north Asheville, she noted the City currently has two dog parks - one in west Asheville and one in east Asheville.  A north Asheville community group has been active for over a year in pursuing an opportunity to be able to locate a dog park in north Asheville.  The developer for the Thoms Estate has shown a willingness to donate land for the purpose of a passive park and dog park.  On May 14, 2013, City Council approved $5,000 to support and endorse efforts to establish a dog park.  She showed a map of the area, noting that the Killian House is not a part of this project. 

She said that developer will not agree to give the City the land until we sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the developer that basically outlines the conditions of which the land will be turned over.  Most of those are strongly related to the design of the facility; the maintenance and upkeep of it; and whose responsibility it will be.  If the developer does not agree to the MOU based on the ability to provide maintenance, then we would have to be another process of a new site selection and then work with that property owner.  If the developer does agree to the MOU, then it would be moved forward to develop the scope of work, request for proposals to do the design (the City would contribute $5,000 and the citizens group would provide the match of $5,000 for the design purpose), and then identifying funding.  There has been discussion about whether the capital can be raised by the public (any government money) and it may not be a possibility.  It may require private funding.  For public funding, staff looks to see if it meets a public purpose, if it aligns with Master Plan, and if it aligns with the Strategic Plan.  If it does, then it is prioritized during the budget process.  Again, there is a process to prioritize funding and projects.  Because there is an established 5-year capital plan, one of the existing projects in the 5-year capital plan would have to come off the list. 

She was not prepared to discuss other considerations because without having a design and a lot of other information, staff can only speculate what some of the other issues would be, some being, but are not limited to:  environmental, noise, water quality, traffic, Killian House, parking, driveway location, multi-use path location, and other park amenities.

She then reviewed the following two options: Option 1 - If community group serves as a steering committee, staff would (1) complete/execute the MOU; (2) develop scope of work; (3) develop Request for Proposals; (4) select consultant; and (5) complete design and environmental.  Or, Option 2 - If community group serves as the lead and staff provides backup technical assistance; staff would (1) complete/execute the MOU; (2) develop design criteria and provide to community group; and (3) provide technical review of design with $5,000.

Mayor Bellamy supported Option 2 because the original request was that the City work with the community as a community-driven project.  She noted that we have a Master Plan and a Capital Improvement Plan that many people have worked hard on to get their projects prioritized and funded.  She felt that if the dog park rises up to more of a commitment from the City, then something has to come off Capital Improvement Plan.  She also thought there was an Option 3 - that the dog park go through the normal process for prioritizing and funding.  Here again, she didn't think we should supersede what is already planned and what other people in our community have waiting for.

In response to Councilman Hunt, Ms. Ball noted that Option 2 was the understanding of the community.

Councilman Bothwell wondered if there was any consideration that it be just a walkable park for people who want to walk their dogs from the surrounding neighborhoods.  He felt the City should not spend anymore time and money on the dog park until the environmental impact of the dog park is determined.

Councilman Hunt felt that the potential for a gift of land and potential for fund-raising to fund the construction are reasons for him to consider doing this out of order of the Master Plan.  If this happens, he suggested it be entirely with private donated money.  Another cost factor is the annual maintenance cost.  He said that ideally locating this at another site that is more publicly accessible and more walkable, but he didn't think that was feasible.  He was open to seeing this move forward, but there are key feasibility questions that need to be addressed before spending money on engineering and site planning.

City Manager Jackson said that the MOU is drafted with a standard of maintenance that we think we can perform but are not sure it will match with their expectations.  He said that staff will submit it to the property owner after this meeting and we will then know their reaction to it.   The City can only commit to the standards of development for maintenance of the existing dog parks.  We will seek to get a clear answer on the MOU before we commit any of the City's money or the private money.  We will report that back to Council and then staff can then come back with what preliminary traffic counts can be done, what we think the environmental assessment will cost, how it links to the transportation system, etc.  But before we commit any City or private resources, we need to know whether the property will be available. 

Councilman Davis was concerned about spending money on the environmental study because we already have a dog park along the French Broad River.  And, if we are not in violation of the law there, he didn't think we would be in violation at this proposed dog park.

City Manager Jackson said that we are here because there isn't any money in the Capital Improvement Program for land acquisition.  Volunteers in the community have worked hard, along with Councilman Pelly, to try to identify a location.  He reiterated that before we spend money we must confirm that this is a genuine opportunity.  Then the next dollars will be the private dollars to do the feasibility work and the environmental studies necessary.  City staff is still abiding by the policy direction and Master Plan, but are responding to volunteers in the community who are trying to obtain land for an opportunity we would not have had.

Councilman Pelly said he has been meeting with the Friends of North Asheville Dog Park since last fall and the initial discussion was the location.  In the 28804 area, this was the only location with potential.  The Friends met last night and there was an informal consensus that they are prepared to raise $100,000 towards the capital and maintenance associated with the development of this dog park.  One idea circulated regarding maintenance was raising the license fee for a dog owner from $10/year to $15-20/year which would generate more funds to be dedicated to maintenance of all three dog parks.  He asked staff to look at that question as well.

With Council's concurrence, City Manager Jackson said that the fee structure would be reviewed at the Finance Committee level in concert with the budget process. 

Vice-Mayor Manheimer noted that there is a lot of information that we need to know and that choosing Option 2 as a direction is not committing ourselves to creating the dog park.  We are going to explore all the issues concerning environmental impacts, traffic, cost of construction, cost of maintaining it at a satisfactory level, etc.  We are only at this point affirming a direction, but it will come back to Council after the information is obtained.

Councilman Smith also favored Option 2.  Because we have a lot of deferred maintenance on our parks, he will be interested in seeing the private capital show up and will be interested in seeing the maintenance numbers.  It's just not another project that might get bumped, but it's also the on-going maintenance that can suffer.

In response to Mayor Bellamy, Vice-Mayor Manheimer said that Resolution No. 13-107 says that City Council supports and endorses efforts to establish a dog park.  The dog park may not be successful because the capital required may be too much.  The resolution is silent regarding long-term maintenance.  Councilman Pelly noted that the dog park will be contingent upon the successful negotiation of the MOU.

Ms. Ball said that first step is to negotiate the MOU and that will be the first test on whether we move forward or not.  Staff is prepared to do that next week.  Under Option 2, the community will have to speak to how long it will take for them to move through the process of the design.

In response to Mayor Bellamy's request for timeline, Assistant Parks & Recreation Director Debbie Ivester said that she has worked with the community's steering committee on identifying tasks with dates and will update the existing timeline, which is on the City's website.  City Manager Jackson noted that Ms. Ivester is the staff contact for this project.

It was the consensus of Council to reaffirm Option 2.

At 4:55 p.m., Mayor Bellamy adjourned the worksession.