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Op-Ed: RA Should Stay Away From Dog Park Conflict

Sign at dog park at Baron CameronThis is an op-ed by Tom Krasselt, formerly of RestonDogs, the nonprofit that administered the dog park at Baron Cameron Park. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now. 

I used to lead the RestonDogs organization and don’t usually make posts about issues related to the dog park in public forums. However I felt like I needed to provide a few comments about the Reston Association (RA) recommendations for Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) about the Reston Dog Park or Reston Off Leash Dog Area (OLDA).

First of all, the decision on the location of the Reston Dog Park has already been litigated and decided by the court system, the case was dismissed without being heard; the case was very weak on any factual data.

The primary question I have is why is the RA taking this on as an issue. Do they feel some urgent need to tell FCPA how to do their job and does RA have a specialty in noise, or park/dog park management? With few exceptions, dog park users are extremely happy with the support we get from FCPA. Let’s not make FCPA the problem, FCPA is not the problem, and everyone at the park will agree on that.

Even those individuals that were a part of the task force will say the only reason why they joined the RA task force is to make sure the Reston Dog Park had an equal voice on the perceived noise issue, that was what this task force was initially created to address, the task force was not initially to point out landscaping issues we usually work with FCPA to address unless they were related to noise reduction.

If RA is taking on Reston Dog Park landscaping issues are we to go to them in the future, who should we contact? We’re just not sure what RA is thinking. Maybe it has something to do Michael Sanio, the Vice President of the Reston Association, being a member of Longwood Grove as we all found out after the task force completed. He is openly voicing agreement with the five families who brought the lawsuit, but that would also be a huge conflict of interest and it would seem like we should have known he was a member of Longwood Grove while making spending recommendations.

What is, and always has been, lacking in these perceived “too much noise” allegations are facts. We have never treated this subject lightly but there comes a point when you need to have something more than the claim “it’s really bad.”

In all honesty, we at the dog park don’t hear any type of noise along the lines of what is being claimed. It seems highly exaggerated to us, statements saying dogs are barking non-stop from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., creating life-altering noise.

Well, everyone’s initial reaction when they hear something like that, including my own would be, “that’s awful, something needs to be done!” Yet when I go to the dog park at 5:30 to witness this issue first hand, I find not a noisy soul around for a period of over a month, the month of June, one of the longest of the year. This was prior to FCPA changing the opening time of the park which is 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on weekends).

Here is another example. As everyone was aware, RA created a task force and that task force did attend the dog park during a typically busy time on a Friday afternoon as part of their Dog Park Task Force Activity. While there, the RA officials remarked at how quiet the dog park was as compared to claims (this comment didn’t make it to the final report). The neighbor’s response was the dog park folks staged this meeting and loaded the park up with “good” people just for this meeting.

Understand, it was the neighbors that picked the date and time for the meeting and we don’t have any control over who comes/goes from the dog park, there was no broadcast message sent out to 1,500 people saying “all you ‘bad people’ stay away.”

At that same meeting, one of the neighbors said “you should have been here at 7:00 this morning and you would have heard what it’s normally like, there was a huge dog fight and unbelievable noise at 7:00 in the morning.”

Unfortunately and unknown to the neighbor making the claim one of the dog owners and fellow member of the task force standing across from him actually happened to be at the dog park at 7:00 and the whole morning that day, he corrected the resident on his non-factual claim, there was no fight or disruption as the neighbor stated, the neighbor stopped telling his story after laying that egg and walked away.

It’s easy to make claims like this, and, as in this case meant to sound bad, but where’s the beef?

Yet another example that occurred in early June, the neighbors called the police to report someone in the park and making noise prior to the opening time of 7 a.m., the police arrived to find two dog owners with their dogs in their cars waiting for the opening time prior to entering.  Claims are easy to make but facts are extremely hard to come by, and now the police are also going to get dragged into these frivolous claims.

Also, a couple months ago when this all started I sent RA a copy of the survey RestonDogs did a couple years ago where 1,500 people signed a petition in support of the Reston Dog Park, yet all I see on the RA final report is a mention of a petition of 45 members of Longwood Grove, why is this?

On its final report, RA recommends dues are collected prior to enter the park and round-the-clock paid monitors be provided by FCPA and paid for by the county (I assume). FCPA is already in the process of creating a volunteer monitor oversight of the park similar to what was in place before the neighbors sued the sponsoring volunteer organization RestonDogs only under the direct oversight of FCPA. In the past this has been one of the best sources of rules enforcement and keeping any perceived noisy periods to a minimum.

Does RA realize recommendations like full-time paid monitors and collecting dues cost taxpayers money? We’re probably looking at 3-4 full time paid FCPA employees to stay at the park around the clock, with another 2-3 full-time FCPA employees to collect dues.

Over a five-year period this will amount to several million dollars when you include benefits, bathrooms and shelter for the employees to be installed at the park, etc. And what benefit is gained? What are they going to speak some special paid monitor language to get better results? This seems like a reckless recommendation. Is having a paid monitor and dues collectors going to make any difference or add a benefit that is worth the cost millions of dollars?

It seems like what might be needed is for FCPA to assemble a task force to resolve issues with how RA does cost/benefit analysis prior to making spending recommendations. That way we can have every agency in Fairfax and Reston government poking around in one-another’s business (Could someone please post the RA cost-benefit analysis if it exists?) If RA and the Longwood Grove neighbors feel an urgent need for full-time, paid monitors and dues collectors then maybe they should fund them.

The neighbors have previously had an injunction denied by the courts, and a lawsuit dismissed without being heard, this exercise with RA was actually a third significant setback for the Longwood Grove neighbors as throughout this exercise Longwood Grove kept pressing for their primary motive at every meeting, a recommendation coming from RA to “relocate the dog park,” but that did not occur.

As I said above RA officials themselves remarked at how quiet the dog park was compared to claims when they visited the park. I encourage anyone who has an interest in this topic to do that. Unlike the neighbors, I’m not making a statement and asking you to believe me, I’m asking you to not believe me, visit the dog park yourself and form your own opinion.

The neighbors will point to a noise study they did that shows a steady 65dB, that’s about the amount of noise coming from a normal conversation, so it actually does show some noise, however what they fail to say is that study also includes the street noise, and in that area there is a significant amount of street noise.

All one needs to do is walk on the sidewalk outside the dog park, the only thing you’ll notice is you’ll need to yell at the person next to you to be heard over the street noise, and it’s so overwhelmingly loud that you don’t even think about noise coming from the dog park which is a very distant sound. And just let a motorcycle, ambulance, or large truck roll by and even yelling won’t help.

One thing I can assure everyone reading this is this is not over, the Longwood Grove neighbors will continue to pursue this with nothing more than a set of hearsay issues until they find another agency that will say, “that’s awful, someone needs to do something.” And “the dog park will be relocated.”

And if you don’t believe me, stay tuned.

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RA Dog Park Working Group Has Long List of Fixes for Noise Issue

Dog Park at Baron Cameron ParkReston Association’s Dog Park Working Group has a variety of solutions for keeping the peace at the off-leash area at Baron Cameron Park.

The ideas range from paid monitors to charging fee for users to installing noise mitigation and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements.

The working group, which was formed last spring in response complaints for a group of RA members who live close to the park, will present its recommendations at Thursday’s RA Board meeting.

RA has no jurisdiction over the park, as it is on Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) land. The involvement of RA was to bring both sides together to suggest solutions to the FCPA The RA Board will discuss and vote on one of two motions:

  1. Move to approve, deny, or amend the short and long-term recommendations of the Dog Park Task Force on improving the operation of the Baron Cameron Dog Park for the benefit of the Dog Park users and surrounding neighbors; or
  2. Direct staff to send a letter, outlining Dog Park recommendations and request for a meeting to discuss such recommendations, to the Fairfax County Park Authority Chairs, and copied to the whole Park Authority Board; the Fairfax County Park Authority Director, Sara Baldwin; and Fairfax County Hunter Mill District Supervisor, Catherine M. Hudgins.

It’s a saga that has been going on for several years.

The problem is noise, say many residents of Longwood Grove, a subdivision located across Wiehle Avenue from the dog park. The Longwood Grove residents say they can hear dogs barking at the park day and night, and it is affecting their quality of life.

Most dog park users say the noise is not a problem.

“What is it that affects your quality of life so much about living next to a dog park?” Reston resident and daily dog park user said at Jonathan Campbell said at an RA meeting earlier this year.  “At this point, [Longwood Grove] has become more of a nuisance to us dog owners than we could be on them.”

Over the last five years, affected Longwood Grove residents have complained to the Fairfax County Park Authority and lobbied to get the park moved either to the interior of Baron Cameron or to Lake Fairfax Park. The residents also filed a lawsuit against FCPA and the nonprofit that formerly administered the dog park, asking that the dog park be closed.

Last spring, the Longwood Grove homeowners asked RA for its help. Residents have told RA that they would like to see the dog park moved to 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.

“It does not meet the land use goals of Reston, the park authority or the county,” Moira Callaghan, a Longwood Grove resident who has been active in the fight for quiet, told the RA Board at a February meeting.

“While the park sits on county-owned land, its proximity to RA members [homes] is unacceptable to Longwood Grove residents and should be unacceptable to this board. Nuisance noise should not be permitted or tolerated.”

The working group, comprised of Longwood Grove residents, dog park users, and members of Reston Dogs (which formerly administered the park), says the Fairfax County Park Authority must be made accountable for the “management and maintenance of its facilities including the Baron Cameron Dog Park.”

The group suggests a sending letter to key Park Authority personnel and board of directors members and obtaining Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins’ help to improve responsiveness of Fairfax County Park Authority.

Additionally the group recommends:

Short Term Goals (within the next 3 to 6 months):

Park Improvements to Mitigate Noise:

  • Install a visual barrier between the two sections of the park to reduce interaction between big and little dogs
  • Distribute garbage cans throughout the park rather than having one consolidated garbage can location
  • Provide a new gate door to separate the entrances to the large and small dog areas
  • Provide full-time, paid monitor during dog park hours
  • Charge a Dog Park user fee to pay for the visual barrier and dog park monitor
  • Create incentives for volunteer monitors.

General Park Maintenance:

  • Take down existing mesh barrier along the fence on the Wiehle Avenue side of the park
  • Improve the landscaping
  • Regrade the park floor to improve drainage and increase safety
  • Prioritize park maintenance
  • Repair existing gaps/holes in chain-link fences and gate doors.

ADA Compliance:

  • Install slow-shut gates
  • Add accessible parking to dog park
  • Add accessible pathway from parking lot to the Dog Park

Long Term Goals (within the next 18 months):

  • Identify potential sites for additional dog parks to reduce demand at this location (Reston Association and Fairfax County)
  • Establish specific zoning ordinances for installation of dog parks in Fairfax County
  • Engage a professional licensed acoustical engineer to identify ways to significantly mitigate sound coming from the dog park which might include reducing the dog park’s elevation in conjunction with installation of a berm and solid 10-15 foot wall.
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Judge: Reston Dog Park Lawsuit Won’t Go Forward

Playtime at the dog parkA Fairfax County judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against the Fairfax County Park Authority that called for the shutdown of the off-leash dog area at Baron Cameron Park.

In March of 2014, five homeowners who live in Longwood Grove, a subdivision located across Wiehle Avenue from Baron Cameron Park, where the dog park is located, filed suit against the FCPA and a nonprofit group that runs the park, saying the park constitutes a private nuisance.

The complaint cited several previous Virginia rulings dealing with the definition of a nuisance. It claimed the plaintiffs are likely to suffer “irreparable harm from the dogs barking and fighting in the dog park in the summer of 2014 as this case proceeds” and have no legal remedy other to quiet the noise other than to ask for an injunction to shut down the park.

Longwood Grove has about 100 homes. The families that brought the suit live closest to the dog run — about 300-400 feet away.

Fairfax County Park Authority Board Chair Bill Bouie said the case against FCPA was dismissed without merit. The dog park, Reston’s only off-leash area, is operated by the nonprofit Reston Dogs, Inc., which was also named in the lawsuit.

“I am very pleased that the judge ruled in the Park Authority’s favor this valuable amenity in the community has been preserved,” said Bouie. “We will still work to mitigate any issues that are violations with our partners and neighbors.”

Moira Callaghan, speaking for the Longwood plaintiffs, said the group is considering an appeal and the case is not over. She added that the case against Reston Dogs is still pending.

“We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling that our nuisance claim, which the judge acknowledged as valid, could not go forward against the Park Authority,” she said. “However, the case has not been dismissed and Reston Dogs is still a defendant. We are considering an appeal as we feel it is wrong and unfair that the park authority would be given legal immunity from a nuisance that it created and continues to maintain.”

Earlier this year, the Longwood Grove residents submitted a Mastenbrook Grant application to the park authority seeking a grant to move the dog park to Lake Fairfax Park as a solution.

Callaghan said the park authority has not responded to the grant proposal.

“We will continue to work towards a solution to this problem that we feel would be beneficial to the community as whole,” she said in an e-mail. “This was the purpose of our Mastenbrook Grant proposal, under which we offered to contribute $15,000 of our own money to a public project to create a bigger and better dog park that would not adversely affect nearby neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, the Park Authority has not yet officially responded to our proposal.”

Mastenbrook Grants are a Park Authority program, founded in 1999, that match funding (up to 50 percent of the total project cost or $20,000 maximum) for park projects. The aim is to fill a gap between limited bond funding and the community’s desire for new neighborhood facilities, according to the park authority.

Baron Cameron Dog Park/file photo

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Barking Dogs Cause Reston Neighbors To Threaten Suit Against Park

For more than 15 years, the off-leash dog park at Reston’s Baron Cameron Park has been a place for dog owners to let the pets frolic freely and play with other dogs in a safe, enclosed area.

Enough, says a group of nearby residents. They say the dog park is a noisy nuisance and they want it to go away.

The families have hired an attorney to file a lawsuit against Reston Dogs, Inc., the dog park’s supporting group, as well as Fairfax County Park Authority, which owns Baron Cameron Park.  The people upset about the noise live  in the Longwood Grove subdivision, which is separated from the dog run by a buffer area of trees, as well as four lanes of Wiehle Avenue.

“My firm represents several residents in the Longwood Grove neighborhood located across the street from the Baron Cameron OLDA [off-leash dog area],” wrote attorney Zachary Williams of the firm Bean, Kinney & Korman. “The operation of this dog park has caused these residents to suffer constant and excessive nuisance noise for many years.”

More from Williams:

Barking dogs at the dog park continue to seriously impact the quality of life for my clients on a daily basis. Incessant barking regularly awakens my clients in the early morning hours and continues throughout the day and evening. In recognition of this problem, the Park Authority recently installed noise mitigation fencing around a portion of the dog park in an attempt to dampen the noise. Unfortunately, the new fencing has had little effect on the impact of the dog park noise for my clients.

At this time, my clients firmly believe that the only way to fix this problem is to close and/or move the Baron Cameron dog park to a new location. Given the ongoing Baron Cameron Master Plan revision process, now is an opportune time to close the dog park so that this area of Baron Cameron Park can be redeveloped in a manner that is compatible with surrounding neighborhoods.

Williams, who did not return phone calls from Reston Now, said the residents have been expressing concerns to Reston Dogs and the park authority for years and have now run out of patience.

Baron Cameron Park is in the midst of a new master plan process, which could add more features to the park as well as change the configuration. One conceptual plan has the dog park moving to a spot farther into the interior of the park. Some residents of the same Longwood Grove neighborhood have also been outspoken against the idea of building an indoor recreation center with a 50-meter-pool in the park. They cite noise, traffic issues and loss of green space among their concerns.

Park Authority Chair Bill Bouie, a Reston resident, says the county has listened to the affected residents and installed the noise-reducing fencing. He also said the county has done its own tests and found no measurable noise coming from the park.

“The traffic noise on Wiehle is louder than the dog noise,” said Bouie.

The dog park regulars agree. On a recent Tuesday morning, about a half-dozen dogs rolled and played in the snow with only an occasional bark. One owner, a dog park regular, said the scene was “very normal.”

“When a dog barks, most owners are on it,” said Matt Taylor, there with his dog Pebbles. “There is going to be a certain amount of barking at a dog park, though.”

John Vockley, also a daily park visitor with his mixed breed, Taylor, says the dog run is just not that close to the homes.

“Those homes are across a main street,'” he said. “I can’t tell what they are hearing that is so loud and onerous they can’t deal with it. I think there is nothing in the park that rises to the county’s excessive noise ordinance level.”

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Police: Man Exposed Himself at Baron Cameron Dog Park

Fairfax County Police Fairfax County Police are investigating a report that a man exposed himself while a woman was walking in Baron Cameron Park’s Dog Park on Tuesday.

The woman told police the incident occurred at 11:15 a.m. She described the suspect as black and in his 40s.

Baron Cameron Park is located in the 11300 block of Baron Cameron Avenue. The off-leash area is a popular spot for dogs. Dog park advocates have been adamant that the dog area stay even if the park is redeveloped as part of the Fairfax County Park Authority Master Plan or if a new Reston Community Center recreational facility is built in the park.

On Tuesday, the dog park was also mentioned as part of the public hearing on a new Fairfax County noise ordinance. Residents who live near the dog run think the new noise rules do not go far enough to protect them.

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