PAWTUCKET â€” The participants make no bones about itâ€¦the dog park in Slater Park is the newest place to meet and mingle, for both canines and their owners.
The City Council on Wednesday voted 8 to 0 to approve a resolution ending the trial status of the dog park and making it an official attraction in Slater Park. The Recreation Committee made the resolution asking for the change, citing the success of the dog park since it opened last summer. Parks and Recreation Director John Blais also issued a letter of support for making the dog park permanent.
Last February, the City Council approved a resolution authorizing the use of the area that had formerly been the site of the Slater Park Lawn Bowls Club as a dog park for a trial period of one year.
The city's Animal Control Department was asked to monitor the dog park for any problems that might arise.
About 35 supporters of the dog park and members of the Dog Park Committee who help do fundraising and maintenance attended the council meeting.
Also present was Mackenzie Rennick, a local sixth-grader who won over some reluctant City Council members with her presentation last February on the benefits of having a dog park in the city. The attendees applauded when the councilâ€™s vote was announced.
Councilor Albert Vitali, who had been a strong supporter of the dog park being created on the former lawn bowling green, called it â€śa huge success.â€ť
He said the dog park has proven to be â€śa gathering place for dogs as well as people in Pawtucketâ€ť and congratulated the Dog Park Committee and John Blais for their work in helping to maintain it.
Councilor Mark Wildenhain echoed Vitaliâ€™s sentiments, saying the spot had become â€śa meet and greet area for dogs and people alike,â€ť while Councilor Christopher Oâ€™Neill also praised both the dog park and the Dog Park Committee that watches over it.
Animal Control Officer John Holmes admitted that while he had been â€śa little skeptical at the beginning,â€ť he was now fully in agreement that the dog park should be made permanent. He said there were a few minor incidents at the facility when it first opened, but he has since been â€śamazed at how people have been taking care of it.â€ť He also heaped praise on the Dog Park Committee, saying that while the Animal Control staff will continue to monitor the facility, the committee itself is doing â€śa wonderful job.â€ť
Councilor John Barry noted that many city residents had been asking city officials for a dog park for the past six or seven years. He said it was â€śrefreshing in this day and ageâ€ť to see a group of people come together for a common goal such as this and to stay involved with maintenance and fundraising.
Councilor Thomas Hodge said he had been leaning towards voting against the proposal last year until Rennick made her convincing pitch to the council. He also told the Dog Park Committee they had done â€śa magnificent jobâ€ť and said, â€śI canâ€™t believe how the dogs get along.â€ť
Council President David Moran, who had been the lone vote against the dog park proposal in February, apologized for being â€śthe stick in the mud.â€ť He said he had initially had some concerns, but has since been pleased with the outcome and supported making the site permanent.
On a related matter, the council voted 8 to 0 to authorize the dog park to remain open at night until 8 p.m. through November, and also authorizing the use of lights that are timed to go off at 8 p.m.
Councilors said they would hold off on any decision about whether to keep the dog park open throughout the winter months until they obtain a legal opinion from the City Solicitor on liability issues regarding snow and ice. It was suggested that the dog park be treated as a ballfield with access limited during the winter.
After the vote, Ellie Crombie, a member of the Dog Park Committee, told the Times that about $2,300 had been raised since the dog park opened from donations and a flea market. She said the committee is hoping to boost its proceeds with a â€śPups on Paradeâ€ť Halloween costume contest for dogs and their owners which will be held at Slater Park on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
In other matters, the council voted to approve a Class BV (victualer) license request for Jimmyâ€™s LLC, doing business as the Cresta Bar and Ristorante at 100 Main St. The new eatery will occupy the space next to the Apex store that was formerly the Mad House CafĂ©.
Also, the council voted to support a request by Vitali that the city's Engineering Department do an assessment of the square footage and put a market value on the three city-owned athletic fields, O'Brien, Pariseau and Morley.
Vitali originally just asked for the assessment of O'Brien Field, but Councilor Jean Philippe Barros suggested that similar assessments be done for Pariseau and Morley as well.
Vitali told The Times later that he had received an inquiry from the principal of St. Raphael's Academy some time ago about whether or not the city might be interested in selling O'Brien field. He said that given the fact that the city needs revenue, he thought he should at least find out what this and the two other playing fields are currently worth.
Vitali told The Times that if any such decision to sell a city-owned field were to occur, it would have to follow the Request for Proposals process and a public hearing would have to be held. He said that he and several other counselors would like to see Morley Field, currently in a state of disrepair, renovated so any schools' sports teams could use it.
Vitali added that if O'Brien or any other city field was ever to be sold to a parochial school, he would want there to be an agreement in place that property taxes still be paid to the city.
The councilor added that he was asked about the sale of O'Brien field before the lawsuit was officially filed by a group of public school parents alleging preferential treatment by the city for parochial schools versus public schools over the use of city fields.
He said his request for a market assessment has nothing to do with this lawsuit, which has not yet been resolved.
Also on Wednesday, the City Council voted to approve an amendment regarding fire hydrant fees that half of a recommended fire protection charge of $535,768 be passed on the customers of the Pawtucket Water Supply Board instead of the full amount. This plan, regarded as a compromise by several councilors, will likely result in a surcharge of approximately $15 a year to PWSB customers. However, any such proposal will also have to be reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission.