Dec 082016
 
The Leo Benewell play spot at Pleasant and Tchoupitoulas is under consideration for conversion into a dog park, though some residents and city officials said they would prefer a larger space farther away. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The Leo Benewell play spot at Pleasant and Tchoupitoulas is under consideration for conversion into a dog park, though some residents and city officials said they would prefer a larger space farther away. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Nearly three years after the opening of a dedicated “dog run” at Wisner Park, the city of New Orleans is launching a new round of discussions about potential locations for another dog park — partly in hopes of reducing some of the unauthorized off-leash use of other major parks around the Irish Channel and Lower Garden District by dog owners.

On Wednesday night, city officials convened a neighborhood meeting at the Lyons Center — itself a popular but controversial destination for dog owners — to discuss the possibility of converting the Leo Benewell playspot at Pleasant and Tchoupitoulas nearby into a dog run. The location was under consideration for its close proximity to the Lyons Center, which has been repeatedly damaged by digging and other dog behaviors.

“Lyons Center, which everybody loves, is not a legal off-leash dog area,” said Vic Richard, director of the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission.

That tension between the excesses of the least responsible dog owners versus the recreational amenities — at both Lyons Center and Wisner Park — loomed over the discussion. Richard acknowledged that he has been criticized for locking the softball fields at Wisner Park after damage by dogs there, even though the dedicated dog run is on the same property.

Richard said he would prefer not to call in the police to write tickets for off-leash dogs, because the police have more important issues, and enforcement on dog owners has sometimes been intentionally lax out of the city’s understanding of the lack of facilities. But if more dog areas are created, the rules against off-leash dogs will become stricter at other facilities.

“Once we create the space, I’m going to expect people to obey the law and respect that space,” Richard said. “Will I be able to reopen the park? Yeah. Will I have to close it again? If I have to make that executive decision, then I will.”

If the basketball court there were removed, Leo Benewell would be about half the size of the dog run at Wisner, attendees estimated, but it would give dog owners an alternative to the Lyons Center that did not run afoul of the law.

“It would be wonderful,” said resident Dave Fry. “It’s really small, but I would take it. I do think you would need to remove the basketball court.”

Others, however, said Leo Benewell might simply be too small to give dogs ample room to exercise.

“I think putting the time and money into this small park wouldn’t serve the purpose that everyone here is looking for, being able to throw a Frisbee and not worry about it hitting a fence,” said resident Jamie Gontarek.

A sign at the basketball court at Pleasant and Tchoupitoulas advertises the discussion held Wednesday about the dog park. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

A sign at the basketball court at Pleasant and Tchoupitoulas advertises the discussion held Wednesday about the dog park. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

“I would rather widen the radius of the properties we’re looking at for the higher square footage,” said Brittany Greiffenstein of the Faubourg Delachaise Neighborhood Association. “We’d rather travel a little bit farther to get a bigger park.”

After listening to the comments, Richard said he was glad to hear the dog owners saying they’d be willing to go slightly farther for a full dog park. Building a facility with more room seems a better solution to him, too, he said.

Dog park proposals for the Uptown area in the past have included consideration of converting part of the existing park at Race and Annunciation into an off-leash dog area, and that currently appears to be the “prime” spot for such a project, Richard said. It would give dog owners room to throw that Frisbee, and could have separate areas for small and large dogs.

“I agree with you all that Leo Benewell is too small,” Richard said. “I agree it would not be in our best interest to invest in it. … You might have to go 10 blocks farther down the street, but look what you’ve got.”

That suggestion — of a more substantial facility at Annunciation — piqued neighbors’ interest.

“I would be on board for anything,” said resident Amina Dearmon. “But finding a property that could accommodate a small dog part and a large dog part would be ideal.”

No decisions were made at the meeting, which Richard described simply as a conversation to get the pulse of the neighborhood on the issue of whether a small spot closer by or a better area slightly farther away. With their input, he said he will begin drawing up more concrete plans and starting conversations with City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell.

In the meantime, Richard recommended that the responsible dog owners who took the time to attend Wednesday’s meeting discuss forming a group to support such a project, similar to the Friends of Wisner Park or the skaters who created a nonprofit to help the city manage and grow Parisite Skate Park. With volunteer allies on the ground helping watch over the area, the city can better justify the expense of creating the space.

“We don’t mind spending the money,” Richard said. “What we do mind is people disrespecting the money we do spend.”

  • ultimateliberal

    That is disgusting, to trade a basketball court for a dog run! Children need that space.

    How about using the park at Toledano and Prytania? How about the grassy area at the port entrance, river side of Louisiana and Tchoupitoulas, along the railroad track/fence? A city-owned vacant lot? As long as HANO leaves the lot empty, why not utilize the space along Tchoup/Pleasant/Toledano? If HANO ever rebuilds, the dog run can revert to residential use.

    • Patricia Cullen

      What park at Toledano and Prytania?

      • ultimateliberal

        It’s actually a neutral ground set up as a park with plantings and walkways.

      • I think they are referring to the skinny strip of land between St. Charles and Prytania. Way too small.

    • If you read the article you see there was also a discussion about the park at Annunciation and Race. I was at the meeting and that there was a consensus that a full fledged dog park at the Race Street location would be better rather than a small dog run at Leo Benewell.

      Also NORDC can only build on property they own. They can’t build a dog park on HANO property.

  • Mary Carstens

    I am a dog lover, but there is something fundamentally wrong with taking over a park meant for children, and turning it into a park for dogs. Where are our priorities? Kids need a place to play, a nice place to play. Please, spend tax dollars on re-doing the parks for children, not for dogs. The dog park in City Park is nice, and it’s not that far of a drive. Kids need a neighborhood park, one to which they can walk.

    • Patricia Cullen

      I live near Lyons park which is void of ANY use 80% of the day. Why not have hours, or areas within these spaces for the many people who would love to meet and socialize with neighbors? They have people in NORDC who police this park to keep any dog out. Why not have their time spent more productively then just chasing people away?

      • ultimateliberal

        Actually, a large swath nearest the residential neighbor could be fenced off and seasonal athletic events would probably not notice the shrinkage of playing space. However, If I lived in that house adjacent to the current fencing, I would howl so loudly the grass would die.

  • Cannibal Special

    Audubon Park needs a dog park. I suggest the area between the Stables and Magazine Street. This area gets minimal use and there is a shelter there in need of renovation.

    • NORDC doesn’t own that property. We’d have to petition Audubon Institute who does own the property. But that would be a good location.

  • Elena

    Why don’t they look at the levee area at the end of Walnut street which is already used as an unofficial dog run. It has plenty of space for both small and large dogs. It would only need a fence between the grassy area and the bike path

    • That was discussed. NORDC doesn’t own that property so they can’t do anything with it.

  • Patricia Cullen

    This location is the closest blade of grass to the warehouse district. There is not going to be enough space to accommodate Uptown, upper and lower Garden Districts, Warehouse district, and the dense St. Thomas housing area. What happened to all the previously set up task forces that were set up to identify sites and speed this along. These began at least 4 yrs. ago and now we are starting AGAIN at square one.

    • I think part of the problem is the original task force was considering HANO properties, and Vic made it clear HANO won’t let dog parks be built on their properties. Though it’s a damn shame HANO isn’t doing anything with all those empty lots they own.

      I like Cannibal Special’s idea about Audubon Park. I wonder how we get the ear of the people there to consider a dog park? I bet it won’t be free though, like City Bark.

  • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

    There are hours when kids aren’t using park spaces that are when dogs could use them. Dogs 6-9 am; 7-9 pm.

    • The issue is inconsiderate dog owners who allow their dogs to dig holes and do not pick up their dog’s poop. Also the dogs destroy the grass.

      • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

        I don’t see dog poop. The grass is torn up mostly by the spikes baseball players wear. I do see discarded paper wrappers for the snack items kids favor.

  • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

    Small dog runs become mud pits very quickly; a large space is needed, especially for dogs with herding instincts.