Dog park plan gone
11/14/2012 10:00 PM
The construction of a dog park planned for West Loop’s Skinner Park has run into into another delay, as local residents objected to several aspects of the Chicago Park District’s design unveiled at a meeting last week.
After an hour of contentious back-and-forth at the Nov. 7 community meeting, project manager Randy DuRussel said that the park district would reconsider its design. The project timetable, which seemed certain at the beginning of the meeting, has been effectively paused, and it is unclear when it would resume again.
Skinner Park neighbors have been asking for a dog park for over a decade, but actually getting the park off the ground proved to be a long, complex process. Potential sites for the park were discussed several times, until the Park District settled on a lot at the southwestern corner of Loomis and Monroe streets.
The first plan for the site was presented in November 2010. Then, the project was paused until Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) was able to secure the funds to help cover most of the expenses involved.
The project kick-off meeting took place on July 27, 2011. Since then, very little seemed to happen. A remediation report took longer than expected, in part because the site was used for parking during the May 2012 NATO summit. The report was finally submitted to the Chicago Park District on Nov. 5.
On Nov. 7, Burnett and the Skinner Park Advisory Council organized a community meeting at Whitney Young, intended to reassure residents that the project was still on track. Not only did it present a design for the park, but it also gave a detailed timeline for it. Construction would begin on July 1, 2013 and be completed in the fall of the same year.
But that schedule was thrown into doubt once the design was unveiled.
The Park District design was essentially a modified version of the original plan. That design called for an entrance at the corner of the intersection, tree-lined edges and an asphalt pathway that wrapped around a tree-lined “island” in middle of the site. The areas under the trees would be made up of a mix of concrete, artificial turf and gravel.
The modified plan aimed to address resident concerns expressed at the previous meeting. It widened the entrance and added a second dog entrance near the northwestern corner of the park. Both entrances would have gates. The plan offered more details, showing a dog drinking water dispenser in the island area and a seating wall along the path’s southeastern side. It specified that the entire park would be surrounded by a chain-link fence. The plan also offered a few cosmetic changes, changing the placement of the trees, among other things.
The objections came as soon as DuRussel finished explaining the plan. May Toy, the president of the Skinner Park Advisory Council, complained that some of the issues expressed at the previous meeting weren’t met.
“We asked for more open space and a gazebo to provide shelter,” she said.
The gazebo, she explained, would keep pet owners and their dogs cool during the summer and provide heating during the winter. DuRussel explained that the park district didn’t consider it because of concerns about what would happen after hours.
Toy pointed out that there was a security station near the intersection. Due to the presence of police training facilities within walking distance of the site, the area receives heavy police patrols. Toy expressed confidence that this would be more than enough to keep the park safe at night.
But the biggest issue by far was the presence of asphalt and concrete in the design. Residents argued that it would not only make the park too hot during the summer, but that dog owners wouldn’t want to take their pets to a dog park with so many hard surfaces. They insisted that the park should have more grass and a sprinkler system.
DuRussel initially rejected the suggestion out of hand.
“In our experience, grass doesn’t work very well,” he said. “The park will turn into a mud pit, and I don’t think you’d want that.”
The argument didn’t persuade the residents, who argued that having more grass was at least something worth considering.
Toy insisted that park district should try to build something that would be welcomed by the community.
“We need to spend our tax dollars wisely,” she said. “We need to provide amenities that residents want. Then, the park becomes self-supporting. [Residents] become supportive. They take ownership of the park. You know, I recognize that having grass is hard, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it work.”
One resident suggested that the locals could handle the maintenance, leading DuRussel to respond that the park had bad experience with these sorts of promises in the past.
“We’ve had our share of communities saying ‘we’ll maintain it,’” he said. “But after a few years, the park isn’t so new, and the community doesn’t take care of it, and we’re stuck trying to deal with it.”
That argument didn’t gain much traction, either.
DuRussel insisted that some parts would have to be paved to ensure that the park would be ADA-compliant. Residents responded that they didn’t have a problem with the asphalt per se — they just wanted less then what the plan called for.
Throughout the entire discussion, Burnett tried to play peacemaker.
“Let’s see if we can meet them halfway,” he told DuRussel after a particularly contentious exchange. “If we can have some of what they want and some of what you want maybe we can have a compromise that works for everyone.”
With the residents refusing to back down, DuRussel changed his tact. After jotting down the list of residents’ suggestions, he said that the park district would reconsider the plan.
“I’ll take these notes back and we’ll work on a new concept,” he said. “It’s going to take a bit of time to come up with a new design.”
Because he didn’t have a chance to talk with his superiors yet, DuRussel declined to say when the new design would be ready.
Burnett urged the park district to come up with a new design as quickly as possible. He told the residents that, I funding becomes an issue, he’d do his best to take care of it.
“If you need some more money, I’ll try to get some more,” he said.