Selectmen moved a step closer to determining a potential location for a dog park in town when they referred three sites on the Alegi property to Town Plan and Zoning for review. The property, located at the corner of Pease and Center roads, was deeded to the town for recreational uses. There are two soccer fields, a large parking area and, most recently, the Pease Place Playground. The dog park could potentially be located on the opposite side of the parking lot, as indicated on the map with three rectangles.
The town in 2011 granted the right to construct a 90’ baseball diamond near Pease Road to the Bethwood Baseball League. Originally the permit for the ball park construction was for four years, given that the town was not going to assume any of the cost of construction, and the League was relying on donations to make it happen. But the project has not come to fruition. Even so, the plan itself has not been abandoned, said Baseball League President Dwight Rowland. He said the league has not been approached by the town regarding the dog park.
Selectmen supported the Alegi property as a less controversial solution than the Fitzgerald property, and in particular the fenced-in chestnut orchard that the Woodbridge Dog Park Cooperative was hoping to use. On a positive note, Alegi offers a large parking lot, fresh water and a fairly level ground.
Questions remain, however, in particular whether this use would be compatible with a baseball field. Additionally, the Recreation Department has equipment storage containers at the end of a paved ramp from the parking lot, which would have to be moved somewhere else.
It is not clear whether the land lends itself for a dog park. The property has wetlands, and the town may have to employ a soil scientist to delineate a suitable location. In addition, the area behind the recreation containers is very wooded and would require some clearing. Just like the baseball club, the dog cooperative was hoping to pay for improvements through donations. However, one donor has threatened to pull out, should the town not agree to the chestnut orchard, said Bonnie Blake, who spearheads the dog park cooperative.
The cooperative has collected some 640 signatures in favor of the chestnut orchard, and even First Selectman Beth Heller admitted that the majority of communications she received were in favor of the chestnut orchard.
Amey Marrella, who has been an opponent of re-purposing the chestnut orchard thanked the board for considering the Alegi property. In a phone conversation she said she felt the Fitzgerald property is a special place and the town should not add any further recreational uses. She also collected signatures, 250 people opposed to creating a dog park in the chestnut orchard; yet at the same time she said some people signed both petitions. “There is less conflict in this town than these two competing petitions would indicate,” she said. “I understand their advocacy,” she said of the Dog Park Cooperative leaders, “I am impressed with them, however “we just need to find the right location.”
Her concern first and foremost is that a dog park, especially being close to the walking trail, may be a detriment to the tranquility of the place. But, in addition, she pointed out that the existing parking area is not close enough to qualify for handicapped parking or elderly dog owners. At the same time, if they were to create additional parking closer to the orchard, it would increase vehicular traffic in areas meant primarily for passive recreation.
She said there is no drinking water at the Fitzgerald property. The spigots in the community gardens provide water from a pond that is not suitable for pets or humans.
As far as the chestnuts are concerned, the Woodbridge Land Trust, in cooperation with the American Chestnut Foundation, has been conducting an experiment to bring the American Chestnut back by cross-breeding it with other varieties. When inoculated with the fungus that killed the trees in the past, the vast majority of trees did become diseased and have been removed, however a few trees are still left. Marrella said the experiment should be allowed to continue.
“I am not against a dog park,” she said. “We just need to find the right location.”
For Sean Gilshannon, a resident in the audience who addressed the Board of Selectmen during public comment, this is a “’duh’ thing.” “You’re overthinking it,” he told the selectmen, adding emphatically, “Let’s have it at the orchard.”
Rob Breitenstein, one of the proponents of the chestnut orchard as the best location for a dog park, also reacted with an impassioned plea. “As a community I feel we are failing miserably,” he said, adding the dog owners already use the Fitzgerald property.
“The Chestnut Foundation are not residents of Woodbridge,” he said. Why do they exert such influence? Who let that happen?”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent