July 10, 2013 - Sunset Hills officials and residents are clashing over plans for the city's first dog park.
The city-owned property where officials want to build the dog park is at Eddie & Park Road, behind Truman Middle School and across the street from the Courtyards of Sunset Hills residential subdivision.
Nearby residents contend that children regularly use a baseball field on the site, but Mayor Bill Nolan disputes that the field gets that much use.
"They turned it into a fight of dogs versus children, on the premise that the ground is used all the time by kids playing ball there," he said. "In fact, it's not used all the time. Every time I've driven by, there's no one there. We have dozens of people, including aldermen, drive by to see who's playing there — and nobody ever sees anyone there."
At the June Board of Aldermen meeting, Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich said he opposes the baseball field as a location for the dog park because the site is in constant use from March through Thanksgiving. Musich could not be reached by the time the Call went to press.
When the Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Brown presented the plans to the Parks and Recreation Committee last year, he said that the lot was chosen because it was one of the least-used in the city. Aldermen, including Musich, voted unanimously last September to approve a resolution seeking a grant to construct the dog park.
At the June board meeting, resident Tom Lynch represented the neighborhood and submitted a petition with 65 signatures opposing the dog park.
The dog park will occupy the area with the baseball diamond and backstop, but it will only take two acres of the four-acre lot. The field does see some practice for leagues from March to May each year, 48 times last year and 46 times this year.
"We're looking at a way to keep a practice field and a dog park on the same site and make everybody happy," Nolan said. "We're taking another look to see if there's a way to keep the ball field going while the other phases may or may not ever be developed."
City officials have received a lot of feedback from residents who want the dog park to go on as planned, Nolan said. Besides the park itself, the first phase of the plan includes a dog agility area, paths, picnic tables, benches and fencing.
The city does not plan to spend any of its own funds on the project. In February, the Municipal Park Grant Commission of St. Louis County awarded a $220,000 grant, funded by a countywide sales tax for parks, to the city to cover most of the cost of the first phase of the project. The Sunset Hills Conservation Foundation is working to raise the $55,000 in other funds needed for the rest of the $275,000 first phase. The nonprofit organization, which seeks to increase green space in the city, plans to contribute 10 percent of the overall cost of the project.
A $4,000 county grant pays for the planning study, supplemented with $1,700 from the Conservation Foundation. The project is out for bids right now and will be up for final approval around October.
If the dog park proves popular, Phase 2 of the overall plans call for restrooms and a pergola added at the site for $118,000.
Eventually, a $374,000 third phase could add a shelter, a playground for children, picnic tables, benches, barbecue area and a drinking fountain. The plan is to apply for further grants to fund the $783,000 cost of all three phases.
All the final cost estimates, including that for the first phase, are tentative.
Sunset Hills is set to share the dog park with Crestwood. After the grant was awarded, the Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted May 28 to collaborate with Sunset Hills on the dog park, which borders Crestwood.
Crestwood residents will be able to access the park on the same basis as Sunset Hills residents and pay the same resident fees.
Committees in both Sunset Hills and Crestwood discussed the possibility of a dog park as early as 2009.