Citizens on both sides of the Reston Dog Park issue spent about two hours speaking to the Reston Association Board of Directors on Thursday. In the end, the RA Board decided to speak some more, suggesting that they further discuss noise complaints and possible mitigation measures with the Fairfax County Park Authority.
That’s because that’s all RA can really do. The off-leash dog area, the only one in Reston, is located in Baron Cameron Park, which is Fairfax County Park Authority land. Reston Association has no authority over the park, RA Attorney Ken Chadwick confirmed at Thursday’s meeting.
Still, some of the residents of Longwood Grove, a development of single-family homes located across Wiehle Avenue from the dog park, said they were seeking RA’s help in their ongoing battle to get the dog park moved.
“We are asking [RA] to stand with us to ask the county to relocate the facility,” said Moira Callaghan, representing the Longwood Grove homeowners. She said RA’s mission is to “look out for [members] property values … and the interest of our homes and our health, safety and welfare.”
Callaghan was among seven individuals who sought legal action to have the park shut down in recent years. That case was dismissed in a Fairfax County court.
She maintained in a presentation to the board Thursday that the barking of dogs at the park “degrades the quality of life” for Longwood Grove residents.
Callaghan also gave a history of the dog park. She pointed out that it was never approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, was intended to be temporary, and that many Longwood Grove homeowners purchased their homes prior to the dog park’s opening in 2001. She also said county officials — including the park authority and Fairfax County Police have continually passed the buck in regards to evaluating noise levels and responding to complaints.
“In a span of three months, 70 calls were made to police in 2013,” said Callaghan. “Police and animal control would not intervene.”
“Our concerns are valid,” she said. “Noise can be heard in our home with the doors and windows closed. We have spent years and thousands of dollars. A viable, longterm solution is needed. We conclude the only viable solution is to relocate the dog park.”
Suggested new locations include Lake Fairfax Park, another Fairfax County Park Authority park that is farther away from homes; or any available and appropriate Reston Association land and participate in a land swap with the county.
Neither of those are likely to happen. FCPA Chair Bill Bouie said in a letter to RA that the park authority has no plans to move the dog park. He said the park authority will look into other measures of noise abatement at Baron Cameron.
Some of the suggestions offered by citizens and a representative of Reston Dogs, a nonprofit that for years administered the park, included greater rule enforcement; more separation between big and small dogs; and user fees and registration for better tracking of repeat offenders.
There was lengthy testimony from citizens on both sides of the issue on Thursday.
Jonathan Campbell, a resident of Vantage Hill, spoke poignantly about how adopting a Labrador Retriever after he was injured in a bike accident and confined to a wheelchair has restored some normalcy to his life.
“Baron Cameron Park is the only dog park in the area that is completely wheelchair accessible,” he said. “Going to the dog park gave me a reason to get out and be active. My dog deserves to be active and happy — I can’t keep up with her, but at the dog park I can.”
“I think as a community we should say ‘enough is enough,’ ” he said, pointing out the Longwood Grove residents’ lawsuit, as well as the petition that led to RA’s Thursday discussion. “What is it that affects your quality of life so much about living next to a dog park? At this point, [Longwood Grove] has become more of a nuisance to us dog owners than we could be on them.”
Another resident and dog park user said the issue has become an embarrassment for Reston.
“I feel there are other priorities in our community that need our attention,” she said.
Carrie Sawicki, a Longwood Grove resident of 22 years, said other residents should try and see the issue from the neighborhood’s eyes.
“People have relatively brief experiences at the dog park,” she said. “It is different than the people who live [in Longwood Grove] for 15 years. We hear dogs fighting. We hear owners yelling at dogs. It can be heard from inside my house.”
Baron Cameron Dog Park/file photo