Residents who live nearest Annunciation Square in the Lower Garden District turned out Tuesday night to voice opposition to a proposal to create a dog park there, sending city officials back to the drawing board before moving forward.
New Orleans Recreation Department Commission leader Vic Richard convened the meeting Tuesday evening at Annunciation Square to discuss his plans to carve out the section of the park nearest Annunciation Street for a fenced-in area where dogs could play freely. The area would be split into separate sections for small and large dogs, and a professional landscaping firm has already expressed interest in the project, Richard said, though he offered no further details.
The dog park at Annunciation Square would take pressure off of other Uptown parks where dog owners let their pets play off their leash illegally, and also reduce the density of usage of Wisner Park, Richard said.
“It would be professionally designed,” Richard told the audience. “There is some funding right now. I am in a position to move forward if the community says they want to.”
Nearby residents, however, questioned how the dog park would affect their own quality of life and the usage of the park as well.
“I just think dogs and children are a bad combination,” said Curtis Pierre. “Dogs see small children as threats.
If the kid makes a certain move, he may feel that’s a threat to him.”
David Koscielniak said he worried that the dog park could pose a threat to the children at the nearby St. Michael Special School. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to a dog park, he said, but it certainly wouldn’t be his first choice of location.
“The special needs kids have absolutely no fear of the dogs,” Koscielniak said. “That’s a pretty significant consideration. They won’t know a friendly dog from a mean dog.”
Dog owners, however, argued that the dog park would actually separate dogs from others in the park.
“By having a fenced-in location, people could walk their dogs on the leash to the park, then let the dogs off,” said Lauren Averill. “I see that as a much safer option than what’s going on now.”
Julie Simpson, president of the Coliseum Square Association, said that she has both children and a dog, but can’t go to either Coliseum Square or Annunciation Square because of all the other dogs off the leash. Instead, she travels Uptown to Wisner Park where both can safely play in separate areas.
“I actually have to go out of the neighborhood to let my child play or let my dog run,” Simpson said. “I think if we had a legal dog park that would alleviate at least some of the problem.”
Several opponents of the dog park pointed to Wisner, where NORD locked the softball fields because dog owners continued to abuse it even after the creation of the dog park. If a dog park was created at Annunciation Square, they said, a lack of maintenance and supervision over time would prevent a similar reduction in people’s ability to enjoy the other parts of the space.
“We’ve seen the damage that the dogs do to the park. Nobody’s been able to restrain the dogs,” said Kathy Falwell. “What are you going to do when the dogs tear up the athletic fields?”
Some dog owners suggested that was because the ground at the dog run had temporarily deteriorated before the recent installation of gravel there, and that if the softball fields were unlocked now, dog owners would have less reason to go on it. Ultimately, Richard said, NORD does not believe children should be playing on fields that dogs use for a bathroom.
“Our goal is to provide the proper space for both parties, not to coexist in the same space,” Richard said.
Jake Bywater of PlayNOLA said his organization operates recreational activities there, and that such a large amount of green space is hard to come by. He wasn’t fully opposed to sharing the space with a dog park, either, he said; he just wanted more details, such as if the fences would be high enough to prevent stray balls from being kicked or hit into the dog area.
Midway through the meeting, Richard asked for a show of hands to gauge support or opposition to the idea of the dog park at Annunciation Park. A clear majority were opposed, Richard acknowledged.
“We know that in the Uptown area that there is a need for some more legal off-leash dog areas,” Richard said.
Some residents asked why Coliseum Square couldn’t be considered instead, since neighbors have already tacitly acknowledged the presence of dogs through the doggie-bag stations throughout the park. Karon Reese, vice president of the Coliseum Square Association, said that if the schools can’t even repair sidewalks at Coliseum Square without running afoul of state historic preservation issues, a dog park stands no chance.
“There is absolutely no way, I can 100-percent assure you, that there will ever be a dog park in Coliseum Square,” Reese said. “I think this is a perfect area for a dog park. I have a dog, and I would come here every day.”
Annunciation Square neighbors suggested a number of other locations:
- Leo Benewell park on Tchoupitoulas is still under consideration, Richard said, though it is too small to give dogs much room.
- The vacant lot owned by the Housing Authority is not an option, he said, because housing authorities have no desire to give it up, and the value of that land would make acquiring it prohibitively expensive for a dog park.
- Some residents asked about the thin strip of green space in the center of the River Garden development, but Richard said that was not under the jurisdiction of NORD either.
- Others asked about the possibility of using part of Burke Park in the Irish Channel or part of the vacant land owned by the Kinglsey House, and Richard said he would consider those.
Richard concluded the meeting by saying the issue needed more study, both by recreation officials and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s office.
“We’ve got to talk about it some more,” said Byron Cornelison of Cantrell’s office. “I think we need another meeting, with renderings.”