Climate Justice Day, Town Hill Playground Fence and Trees of Glen Mary Also Discussed
MAY 2, 2023
BAR HARBOR—Though Chair John Kelly often mentions that the town’s Parks & Recreation Committee doesn’t have the power to make decisions, just recommendations, it’s consistently one of the committee meetings with high public attendance, which is likely thanks, in part, to the topics it discusses: a potential public dog park, Glen Mary woods and pool, and playgrounds.
Monday was no different. The committee discussed a plaque for a bench, a Climate Justice Day event on the village green, a fence at the Town Hill Playground, a tree mitigation plan at the Glen Mary Woods, and a potential dog park on the far end of the town’s athletic fields off Park and Main Streets.
About twenty four members of the public attended, including Council Chair Valerie Peacock and Vice Chair Matthew Hochman. Both left to attend another meeting.
THE DOG PARK PLAN
Jeff Miller, Enoch Albert, and Sharon Knopp gave an update about the dog park plan, which would be situated at the southeast corner of the athletic fields. The area abuts the Cromwell Harbor Inn and some nearby residences. The organizers had originally asked to create a park in the Glen Mary woods area. That site was rejected and had been denounced by residents in the area, but also is not owned by the town. The organizers regrouped and suggested the site on the athletic fields.
According to a memo to the committee that was signed by Miller, Albert, Knopp and Liz Cutler, the current proposal is:
“The Dog Park, will consist of a fenced in area approximately ½ acre in size with a double, air-lock style entry gate near the existing batting cage. The area will be divided to provide a section for small dogs (under 25 pounds), approximately 50’ x 20’ with its own entrance from the double entry gate. A double vehicle gate will be installed at the eastern end of the park to allow access for maintenance vehicles. The entire area will be enclosed by chain link fence, no less than four feet or taller than five-feet tall, similar to that at the adjacent baseball field.”
Kelley asked about the half-acre size.
Miller said that it’s the smallest size they’ve seen in their research. “We’re tight on space, much like everything else in Bar Harbor.”
Kelley also asked about how capacity (amount of dogs and humans in the park) is managed inside the park wondering if it can be controlled and how the organizers would prevent overuse.
Albert said that the organizers have thought of various levels of restriction to prevent use:
1. Registering with the town and paying a fee for use
2. Having a lock on the gate.
3. Citizen volunteer monitors
“I think that’s a worst case scenario. I don’t want to start out that way,” Albert said on registrations and locks, and he added that there were a lot of dogs in Bar Harbor. “It’s hard to say how many people will make use of it.”
Miller added, “We do believe in many ways that dog parks are self-regulated by the people who use them. There are always exceptions.” He also said, “People are typically not there for all that long.”
The organizers envision a sign that would help control the use. Miller said that there could be “a rule that would be on there is that an individual cannot come there with more than two of their own dogs.”
Kelly told the organizers that he believes that they have to manage for August, which is traditionally the most crowded time in Bar Harbor. He said he was concerned about visitors following the rules. “I have lots of experience at Acadia with signage,” he said. That signage says that dogs must be leashed. Still, he said, there are 30-40% of people with dogs off leash in the park.
Kelly said that while he seemed critical of the plan his goal was not to be critical.
“I want the town to not go down a road that it’s going to regret. That’s why I sound critical and negative,” he said. That leads him to ask: what would the town regret.
“Overuse,” he said, potentially noise, how do you keep people from using it when it’s closed, the burden on the town, on Public Works Director Bethany Leavitt’s staff, and the police department. Leavitt said at the meeting that it would definitely be more work for her department, particularly the spreading of woodchips, which she said was hard physical labor for her staff.
“It’s an effort. Those things are heavy. Wheelbarrows and getting them to spread out is an effort,” Leavitt said. “They are exhausted (afterward).”
Another topic of concern for Kelly was that the organizers said that they did not plan to incorporate. Kelly worried about the organization’s longevity when it comes to keeping up the park.
Much later in the meeting, Interim Town Manager and Finance Director Sarah Gilbert said that because of the town’s insurance through the Maine Municipal Association and liability issues, the town can’t have volunteers policing the area. She compared it to volunteer firefighters having to be town employees and getting paid to respond to fires.
The dog park memorandum of agreement states STATE IT HERE.
Committee member Greg Veilleux asked about liability if a dog hurt another dog or a child.
“It’s certainly possible, is it likely?” Miller asked.
“Yep,” came a chorus of answers in the audience.
“So there’s dog-on-dog potential violence and dog on person,” committee member and YMCA representative Bob Huff said.
Miller asked if there was a difference between that and a kid breaking their leg in the skate park. The liability is different if the town provides a facility for dog interaction, Kelly said, so it would be higher in the skate park or in the dog park than in a parking lot.
“The assumption of risk only goes so far,” mumbled an audience member.
Kelly said that he was also concerned about the longevity of the group of organizers and volunteers, which would keep taking care of the park.
At the meeting, the organizers envisioned it being open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and throughout the year. There was a question about lighting the area and the organizers currently don’t envision lighting with any after-dark or pre-dawn hours lighting being provided coming from the nearby basketball court. These hours vary slightly with the information given to committee members in preparation for the meeting.
“We need to deal with the possibility of it, the probability of it, being noisy,” Kelly said.
Albert said that committee members really had to go to dog parks to understand the low level of noise. “There is very little barking at a dog park. Most of the time, dogs meet each other. They sniff wherever they want to sniff.”
Kelly asked how they would plan for the peak moments where there will be barking.
Knopp said that would be part of the rules. “The whole idea is that users can ask to take the dog out if the dog is barking.”
There was some discussion about how Bar Harbor has a sound ordinance and noise ordinance. Albert said that the vegetation is also a buffer. Knopp said she doesn’t think that the town deals well with barking dogs in general, mentioning some that are left out all day in fenced yards in her downtown neighborhood.
Though not mentioned at the meeting, there is a town ordinance about barking or howling dogs.
On Facebook, prior to the meeting, there was a plea from the Hanscom family, for people to oppose the project’s site and to also send letters to the committee. Those pleas were echoed by the family members at the meeting.
A good majority of the meeting was spent in discussion between the committee and the organizers.
Miller said that current plan would be for a half-acre park split into sections for large and small dogs. There would be a chain link fence around the park that would be between four and five feet tall. The area would be weeded, unhealthy trees and dead wood and invasive plants would be removed. Wood chips would cover the ground and there would be a water fountain for humans and dogs in each section. There would also be a sign with the rules for the park. There were also some buffering plantings proposed (to decrease noise) around the park.
A dog-poop-bag dispenser would also be located inside the area. One is currently located at the Park Street parking lot. It was not decided if that would be moved into the dog park or if an additional dispenser would be purchased and placed there.
Jay Hanscom, a direct abutter said, “I have been to dog parks from here to Southern California for the last nine years. They are very loud.” He added, “Dog parks have actually been shut down because of excessive noise.”
He added that knowing there is so much reliance on self-governance gives him less confidence in the project.
Joy Hanscom, another direct abutter, said she believes the dog park is improperly placed. “We are beyond concerned about this location. If you’re going to go through the process, you want to be sure that it can be successful. Currently, with the proposed location, it’s not going to be successful.”
To be successful, she said, a dog park has “to not be near residences. To not be near a stream. To not be near where children are playing.” And the current proposed location? “The athletic field is one, two, three strikes you’re out. It’s a no-brainer.”
She said there is no place in the downtown area where a dog park wouldn’t be destructive. “We have about 15-year round residents in that enclave. It is so quiet. It is so quiet. That’s how we market our business…. You can hear a pin drop down there….”
“You bet your bottom dollar that they are going to be barking,” she said. “We are going to have to be the one who have to deal with all the unintended consequences while you’re working out the kinks.”
Jan Hanscom agreed, saying that, “You’re going to come and bring your dog and then you’re going to quietly go home to your house and neighborhood. Your dog is going to be replaced by another dog.”
But, that isn’t how it will work for them. She said, “This is our home, our livelihood, all of it. It’s just so unfair to plunk it in our backyard where we can’t get away from it.”
It was also mentioned at the meeting that another hotel is quite near the site and those owners may not be back in Maine yet to say if they have concerns. Scott Hammond spoke in favor of the project during the meeting as did Liz Cutler.
Preliminary costs for the project as proposed include fencing (between $22,000 and $40,000); arborist ($3,240); water fountains ($3,800 to $5,500) plus installation costs between ($1,000 to $3,000); (sign, $1,000).
The committee unanimously approved a plaque for a bench at Harborview Park that would honor Jeri Spurling’s parents.
CLIMATE JUSTICE DAY
The committee unanimously approved the use of the Village Green from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for a Climate Justice event on Friday, May 26. The event would run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and according to Ezra Sassaman, the advocacy and organizing coordinator for Maine Youth for Climate Justice and Warrant Committee member, it is envisioned not as a protest but as a discussion. The additional hour is for set-up and takedown. The request comes from Just Me for Just Us and the Maine Youth for Climate Justice.
GLEN MARY WOODS
Gilbert said that she has an appointment with the town’s attorney this week to discuss the lease of Glen Mary Woods. That lease would be between the town and the Village Improvement Association (VIA).
Veilleux suggested a backup plan if the tree management plan doesn’t work because there aren’t funds that were committed by the town in this budget.
Nearby resident, Ellen Grover, said, “I feel like we’ve been having this conversation for years.”
Last year there was a great progress, she said, with the knowledge that the town is maintaining the woods and not the VIA. “We have a woodland that has been neglected, we all agree, for a very long time,” she said and stressed that she’s worried about the health of the woodland.
“You know our neighborhood wants to help in any way. To see those guys out there (from the town’s public works department) picking up the dead wood this year? Our whole neighborhood was applauding,” she said.
A service enhancement had been proposed to pay for the tree management in the next budget cycle. However, Leavitt said, that she didn’t think that item made it past the manager’s review, possibly because it was considered a service enhancement in a tight budget year. Kelly said that he saw it as a contractual obligation that occurred via the last leasing of the land from the VIA and not as a service enhancement.
Gilbert suggested creating a 10-year capital improvement program (CIP) so that the town could save up to do work on those trees every ten years. It was also suggested that the head of the VIA come speak to the committee once he was back in Maine. Committee member, Jeff Dobbs said he would extend that invitation.
“The town has funded the labor and the equipment for the park. We don’t have a specific line item for Glen Mary Woods,” Leavitt said. It was just the tree management plan that wasn’t funded, she said, but the town is putting labor into that area.
She said that she feels as if the tree maintenance currently is reactive rather than proactive.
TOWN HILL PLAYGROUND FENCE
The committee also discussed the Town Hill Playground’s lack of a fence that would fully enclose the area to make the playground safer for kids.
The committee unanimously recommended a continuous fence be installed around the Town Hill Playground that’s suitable to keep young kids behind and allow private resources to help fund it.
Leavitt mentioned that a local parent has been fundraising for fencing. That work has been supported by the Town Hill Village Improvement Society.
There was also a request to post a sign to prohibit pets from entering the playground. There is a similar sign at the Park Street Playground. Dogs still go in the enclosed area with owners. The conversation drifted toward the placement of no smoking signs at places like Barker’s Park, Grant Park. The committee decided to discuss signs on the next agenda.
PACKETS OF INFORMATION FOR MEETINGS
There was also some discussion at the meeting about the public being able to view the dog park plans. The packets that the committee receive are not currently available online. Gilbert and Leavitt said that they would be online by Tuesday. As of 4 p.m., they were not up. They would be available here.
THE DRAFT DOG PARK MUO PRESENTED IN DECEMBER
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