Proposed plans for an off-leash dog park have been met with vehement opposition from some members of the community adjacent to a proposed site.
The Fernandina Beach Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee voted unanimously on March 10 against going forward with an off-leash park anywhere in the city.
Steve Cook approached the PRAC with the idea at its meeting last month, suggesting a city-owned property on North 11th Street next to property owned by the Nassau County School District be used for the park.
At a subsequent joint meeting with the City Commission, the Nassau County School Board did not support the idea, citing concerns about disruption to classes held in buildings behind the district’s main administration building and a lack of access by trucks to the district’s warehouse.
At the March 10 meeting of PRAC, Cook again asked members to approve “the concept” of an off-leash dog park in the North 11th Street location or elsewhere. He said he used his experience in construction to estimate the cost to the city would be $42,000. Cook said he had garnered 200 signatures on a petition supporting the park.
PRAC members had questions for Cook regarding liability for the park, how rules would be enforced, how the city could ensure dogs in the park have the necessary shots, and how people bringing their dogs to a free park might affect the Nassau Humane Society, which maintains an off-leash park across from the city’s airport and raises funds by charging a fee.
But those concerns paled in comparison to the discussion that began when board members asked Cook if he had spoken about his plans to people who live in the adjacent neighborhood.
“I reached out to one that had a dog (and) they’re in favor of it,” Cook responded. “The other people, from what I understand from city staff, there are four or five houses that have complained continuously over the last two years about anything the city has done over there. The city has had complaints because they parked some equipment over there. The city had complaints because they put some materials there. No matter what you do, those people are going to complain. So, did I go talk to those people? No, because I knew what the answer was going to be. They don’t want anything.”
Some of the people living in the neighborhood Cook referenced took exception to his comments.
“I don’t like the way he said ‘those people.’ I thought we had gotten way beyond that type of statement,” Robert Blue Sr. said. “The people in the neighborhood are taxpayers and should be respected like anyone else. It’s right in front of their house, and they weren’t even considered. I think that’s a slap in the face. Would you want a dog park in front of your home? That’s the question I’m asking. You’ve got elderly people. You can’t make (the dogs) stop barking. Those people should have been considered.”
“Everybody on this street is my family,” Fernandina Beach High School teacher Keisha Williams said. “We have family get-togethers, and I don’t want to be outside barbecuing and smelling dog poop. That’s not why I’m paying city taxes. I also feel, as a resident, that Mr. Cook did a wonderful job on your presentation, but due diligence is, even if you don’t want to hear the cons, we do our due diligence with the pros and the cons, and you should have first started with the people that live on this street.”
Clarence Brown also said that he wasn’t consulted and that Cook should have asked those living in the neighborhood for input.
“I commend you for considering us since Mr. Cook didn’t,” Brown told PRAC members. “I live across from this, and we just found out about two or three hours ago. I felt disrespected when he said he didn’t come to us because of the way he felt. He never did find out why we complained to the city. Right across from our street, they put all kinds of trash and dumped trees and all kinds of things right in our doorway. When we came out, this is what we see. He didn’t want to find that out. He didn’t come and ask us how we feel. Right now, we are hoping you disapprove that location. I have a problem with him disrespecting me as a human being.”
“I’m glad somebody got you guys all stirred up,” Cook said in response to the public comments. “I did not expect to be called disrespectful. I came up here to ask you to approve a dog park concept. The opponents have done a very good job at focusing in on the site we picked. There are several other sites under consideration.”
The Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee voted against moving forward with an on-leash dog park in any location.
Also at last Tuesday’s meeting, the Fernandina Pickleball Pirates approached the committee with a request for changes to existing tennis courts that would allow pickleball play on them.
Speaking on behalf of the organization, Diane Parks said the city’s six pickleball courts are filled during the daylight hours while four tennis courts are often unused. She requested that the city paint lines on two of the tennis courts so pickleball could be played when no tennis players are using them.
Parks said the cost to the city for the new lines would be
$320 and offered for her group to pick up the tab if the city would not.
“We are not asking for new courts. We are asking for the use of what is rarely being used right now,” Parks said. “The lines would be a different color for pickleball. If you play tennis, you know where the lines for tennis are. Everywhere we have played tournaments, tennis lines are one color, pickleball lines are a different color.”
Parks & Recreation Director Nan Voit said the city has “gone above and beyond” to provide facilities for pickleball. “One of the reasons we built the pickleball courts is it was becoming so popular and we were using the tennis courts and the multipurpose court at Main Beach Park, so with the number growing, we built four pickleball courts,” Voit said. “It continued to grow, so we built pickleball courts and added lights, which were extremely expensive, and what we’re finding is the lights are not being used because people are playing during the day. In the last two years, when we finished up these two courts, it was asked, ‘Are you guys going to ask for anything else for pickleball?’ … The answer was no. Things change and I understand that. Staff is recommending that the tennis courts not be used on a regular basis for pickleball, only for special events such as tournaments.”
Voit said Parks & Recreation staff has made the decision not to paint pickleball lines on the tennis courts, though PRAC could make a recommendation to the City Commission.
“That’s like peddling backwards,” she said. “We created both (of) the pickleballs courts in the first place because there was controversy with the lines on the tennis courts. Bringing it to (PRAC) to let them know what their request is is fine, but staff is still not going to paint the lines on the court, or allow the lines to be painted.”