Residents riled by dog park plans

A group of Richmond Hill residents protests locating a dog park in the neighbourhood. Town council votes on whether to make the park permanent next month. (Higgins_Dog park_picE)

A homeowner in Richmond Hill, where a dog park is planned, says civic officials have dropped the ball on the issue.

Residents adjacent to the dog park, located west of Yonge Street on Tower Hill Road, want it relocated. Built as a one-year pilot project, the park’s future will got to town council for a vote on Dec. 13. But resident Chris Gravel has complained about the way the town chose the site.

“We’re not protesting the park,” he said, “but the relocation and how council did not approach the local residents on whether we were in favour of having a park.”

Murray Palmer, whose backyard faces the park, echoed Gravel’s sentiments.

“The process to change the open space into a park was never done,” Palmer said. “It wasn’t a public process and that’s inappropriate. Not to involve residents when they make a decision like this, is wrong and it’s pushing people aside.”

Coun. Lyn Foster responded by saying the town posted a petition for the dog park on its website. She admitted nearby residents were not directly consulted.

“I did not specially invite all of the residents before the park opened,” she said, “because the town wanted to see whether the park functioned and it wanted to look at a years worth of information to see if it works rather than being held accountable by the attitude of ‘any place, but my backyard.’”

Tracey Steele, manager of parks planning and natural heritage, said residents have the opportunity to voice their concerns throughout the year. In this case, the town followed protocols without direct consultations.

“The onus is on the residents,” Steele said. “There are no legal obligations on council policy that would obligate us to do that.”

Steele says residents will still have an opportunity to voice their concerns directly to council.

“We have a list of all the residents who sent in comments and we will be notifying them directly,” she said.

In Foster’s opinion, complaints about noise from the park lack evidence.

“I’ve been on the [nearby] cul de sac wanting to hear the kind of noise being complained about and it wasn’t my experience,” she said.

The Richmond Hill K9 Klub pushed to establish the park and now acts as its steward by maintaining the property and educating users about the rules. David Walker, club co-chairman, says relocating the park would mean a huge loss for the community.

“This is one of the best parks in the GTA because of its location and unique terrain,” he said. “From a taxpayer standpoint, the town has already invested money here and to tear that down and rebuild it would be an offence.”

The protestors have sought legal counsel and will decide whether to pursue court action depending on the outcome of council’s vote.