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Plans for dog park halted after council debates where to put it

A proposed off-leash park for Vaughan’s dogs to run free was temporarily caged this week after an animated and, at times, light-hearted debate at committee.

The Off-Leash Working Committee, chaired by Councillor Tony Carella, presented its final report, listing seven possible sites throughout the city where the dog park might be located. The city had set aside $82,400 in the 2007 budget for the construction of the park, with $5,000 annually to operate it.

The report was intended to help guide city staff toward the creation of such a park.

Councillors Sandra Racco and Peter Meffe both raised concerns about the report, with Racco wanting to eliminate several of the finalists while Meffe questioned why there were only seven.

“It wasn’t what we had hoped for,” said off-leash committee member Susan Tam in a Tuesday interview. “I would’ve liked to see more support from the councillors.

“Short of Councillor Carella, it didn’t appear that anybody else really wanted a leash-free park in their ward,” she added. “I’m really thankful that he’s very passionate about that.”

Over the course of five meetings since February, the committee evaluated 32 sites, arriving at what it felt were the most appropriate. But four of the seven finalists are situated in Racco’s Ward 4, something she said both her and her residents are stridently opposed to.

“Looking in the recommendation, there’s four locations (that) happen to be in Ward 4,” Racco said at Monday’s meeting. “I can tell you that I don’t want any of them to be considered.”

Councillor Carella, the off-leash committee’s chair, came to the defence of the report and the chosen sites it contains, saying it was about time that Vaughan had an off-leash dog park.

“If Councillor Racco doesn’t want to do anything for the dogs of this municipality, that’s fine,” Carella said. “I’m sure between us, Councillor Meffe and I will find a home for them.”

Though Meffe did say he would be glad to have the park in his ward, he questioned the scope of the search and the limited number of sites presented to committee. He went on at length listing what he considered could make suitable locations, including the Kortright Centre, the Green Belt, Boyd Park, and any of the city’s district parks larger than 15 acres.

“Councillor Meffe, your time is up 30 seconds ago,” interrupted committee chair and Regional Councillor Gino Rosati.

“And by the way you did miss a few sites, I want to point out,” he added to the delight of the other councillors.

Prompted by the concerns of Racco and Meffe, the off-leash committee was asked to prepare additional information to be presented to council Monday, including the original list of the 32 possible sites and the complete criteria used in evaluating them, Tam said.

Unfazed by what she called a “temporary setback on the road to an off-leash park”, Tam said getting the park is really in the hands of residents.

“Basically, if people want this park, they need to let their councillors know,” she said. “It’s really important that the councillors understand.”

Vaughan Today
Online: December 8, 2007 [link]