by K.J. Lincoln
The Bethel City Council considered a proposal that would allow for the creation of a community dog park. Ordinance 17-08 was introduced during the February 14th, 2017 meeting by Mayor Rick Robb, which passed on the consent agenda.
The proposed ordinance states that Bethel Municipal Code allows the city council to establish one or more dog parks. The City of Bethel re-acquired the lot on Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway next to the public health building and across from Ed’s Auto and QFC #2 known as Lot 15.
That land can be used as a park and furthermore, the Parks, Recreation, Aquatic Health and Safety Center Committee has recommended establishing a dog park at this location.
Public hearing for the proposed dog park ordinance took place during the Feb. 28th council meeting. During discussion, Mayor Robb clarified that this was brought forth on behalf of the Parks, Recreation Aquatic Health and Safety Center Committee.
“It is my understanding that it (Lot 15) is designated for recreational uses. To me this seems like an appropriate recreational use to allow the land to be designated as a park. It would be designated as a dog park where dog owners would come, take their dogs, allow them to roam under voice command or leash and use the facilities. There is probably not a lot of other uses that can be done to this land without massive dirt fill, a lot of expenditures,” said Mayor Rick Robb. “It is not saying we have to spend any money. It is not even saying we have to develop it. It is just saying people could use it as a dog park. This was brought forward by committee. It was recommended…and I would like to see this go forward.”
The animal control section of the Bethel Municipal Code was amended by the Public Safety and Transportation Commission and established the fact that Bethel could have a dog park, continued Mayor Robb.
A proposal was put forth to establish the Lions Club Park as a dog park a few years ago – but that did not come to pass. The space was too small.
Lot 15 was originally owned by the City. The National Guard had plans to build an armory in that location but they chose a different location and the land was returned back to the City.
Council member Nikki Hoffman supported the idea of having a dog park in Bethel but was concerned about the appropriateness of the area.
“I support the idea of having a dog park in Bethel, I just don’t know if this is the most appropriate area. My understanding is that adjacent to Lot 15 is a dog musher’s dog yard. I don’t know if that would be a great idea to have loose dogs running next to a large dog yard,” she told council. “In addition, there is the 17.4 acre ONC (Orutsararmiut Native Council) housing subdivision development near there.”
She recommended that the issue be brought to the Planning Commission.
There is also the issue of liability insurance and flooding in the spring that City Manager Pete Williams brought up.
“It’s my understanding that if we were to designate this as a park and say that the public could use it that there is some liability on our end under insurance that would have to be met, before we can just say, hey – you guys can go out or whoever can go out and play on that land,” he said. “One of the big issues on that, right at the moment, is that it floods. That is one of the requirements that the insurance company definitely wants to address before we were able to say that people could go out there.”
He presented an estimate cost sheet for council to consider if the proposed park was 5 acres square and also a comparison for a 300 ft. by 300 ft. area.
Council member Leif Albertson asked City Attorney Patty Burley if there was anything else they should be aware of.
“There is a question federally whether dedicating as a dog park within the perimeters of the constrains that we have on that land which was given to us. The Mayor did ask me to check with the feds and I have not received an answer,” Burley said. “There are legal concerns here with the way it is written – although this could be corrected in this with a short amendment.”
This seems to imply that the entire park is being deeded to the dogs without a prior resolution of this council, therefore overriding the resolution where council agreed to be willing to consider putting a road there for ONC to reach their subdivision, continued Burley.
“This would in essence shut that road. This council is not at any point right now obligated to grant that easement. But this is shutting that because it is now dedicated towards something else,” she said.
Currently Lot 15 is an abandoned field and the City does not have any liability to maintain an abandoned field, Burley said.
“That seems to be the most recreational thing you could do with the land is to call it a park,” said Mayor Robb. “Nothing is intended to block any easements for a proposed ONC affordable housing subdivision if that ever goes forward. I am assuming that is going to go forward. There is nothing intended to block that or do that. It is simply just to designate the land as a park and to fill an unmet need in our community.”
A motion was made by council member Alisha Welch to refer the proposed ordinance to the Planning Commission.
“I am in favor of this but I think before we pass it we should get our ducks in a row,” she said. Council member Hoffman seconded the motion.
“I am going to speak on behalf of Parks (Committee). They’re totally for this. It is going to be one of the first designated dog parks in the city,” said council member Fred Watson. “Unlike you this is the first I’ve heard of the insurance and all this other stuff. I definitely would like to hear more of that as well. I am definitely in favor of this, postponing it is probably a good idea.”
The motion carried 5-1. Mayor Robb was in opposition, symbolically, he said.