CHEVY CHASE VILLAGE – Community members walked out of Chevy Chase Village Hall after the town’s Board of Managers voted 5-2 to disestablish the Brookville Road Dog Park on Sept. 9.
The decision removes its designated as an off-leash park for the community’s dogs.
The 7,800 square foot dog park has drawn national attention recently after residents who live near the park complained about excessive barking from dogs and the annoyance of extra cars parked on the street from the dog’s owners.
The Board of Managers have held the floor open for public comments on the dog park during meetings in May, June and July to “solicit the views of the community regarding the park, to consider concerns voiced by abutting neighbors about noise, traffic and aggressive dogs, and to consider modifications to the use of the park and park access,” they wrote in their announcement of the final public hearing on the matter.
According to Chevy Chase Village, the board has made changes to the dog park to make a compromise with members of the community that would like to see the park closed down. On July 8, the board voted to amend the park’s open hours to 8:00 a.m. to sunset on weekdays and 9:00 a.m. to sunset on weekends and Village holidays.
Chris Manning was one of the community members who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. He and his family have a 7-month-old puppy that has been enjoying the dog park since they brought him home.
Manning said the park has been a real benefit in socializing their puppy with other dogs and people and his family has enjoyed getting to know the other people that use the park as well.
“Frankly, it’s been really great for us socially to meet neighbors we haven’t met before and developed that sense of community,” he said. “This was something that didn’t exist when we had our last dog and it’s really a community treasure.”
However, Manning also noted that the concerns from neighbors over the park are valid.
“I have respect for the folks that have voiced concern about this and I’m really impressed with the fact that the board has stepped up the (response) for neighbors who have concerns about the park’s hours and I think there is a way to demonstrate to the village and to the country that we can find a way for everyone (to enjoy this,) he said.
There was a true outpouring of support for keeping the park as it is, however, resident Bob Broeksmit, whose house borders the park, offered the lone opposing perspective during public comments. He said the neighbors who have voiced their concern over the dog park feel vilified and ridiculed over the situation.
“There is a fence between us and the park, I can’t see over it or through it and when I’m outside trying to enjoy our yard I don’t know if the barking is being managed and is going to stop soon or whether I should spring through the gate and ask people to control their dogs,” Broeksmit said. “I don’t think it should be up to me to decide whether I should go in and resolve the conflict or just put up with the distraction and the noise.”
Before a decision was made, Linda Willard was one of the two board members who announced her support in keeping the park as it is.
“I come from the perspective that I just became a board member in June and these folks have gone through more hearings than I have so that’s why I (allowed) that it is not a great space for a dog park, you know 7,800 square feet isn’t great however there is resounding support so I just thought it might be an opportunity (to compromise,)” she said. “It’s an imperfect space which is the trouble.”
Willard also noted that she was sympathetic to the people who raised their concerns. When there is noise or disruption right outside of where someone lives, there is no place to go for refuge, she said.
“You don’t want to feel under siege in your own house,” she said.
Board member Gary Crockett voted to disestablish the dog park, stating that his decision came down to the small size of the park.
“I just don’t think we have a good place for it,” he said. “There are standards for dog parks and have only tiny little parks in Chevy Chase we really just don’t have the space. In a dog park, you don’t want the neighbors literally three inches from a dog exercise area and we have that.”
Crockett said that he did not like having to vote the way that he did consider it has become a happy place, but the village just does not have the right amount of space to support the park.
To show their support for the dog park, many members of the community attended the meeting wearing white hats with the words “Come. Sit. Stay. Save the Chevy Chase Dog Park.”
“It’s hard to believe that a small minority of people, many of whom apparently wanted to compromise led (the board) to disestablish the park,” Marc Cohen, one of the supporters, said. “There was an Orwellian moment where Chairperson Lenard said that the park remains open to all pets, all people, from wherever but it seems like a lot of doublespeak.”
He explained that he felt like the decision was partially influenced after multiple reports published in The Washington Post and NPR that called dogs from other neighborhoods and the district, invaders.
“This used to be a racist enclave, and this is really reminding me of all the worst parts of our current debate and the worst parts of our history,” he said. “You know, keeping people out, excluding people I think that’s what it’s about, not the noise.”