Dog parks are not a new concept — Madison has eight of them. Yet they still can prove controversial, as Monona Mayor Bob Miller is finding out.

Monona has no dog parks, a situation Miller wants to rectify.

“Not doing one is not an option, in my opinion,” he said. Finding the right site has become the tricky part.

This isn’t a personal issue for Miller, at least not right now. His golden retriever ZuZu died four years ago. He currently does not own a dog.

His passion comes from a strategic planning survey the city conducted last year. While the overall results were positive, one issue jumped out at him: About 25 percent of survey respondents had lived in the city less than five years, and some said they didn’t always feel Monona was very welcoming to newcomers.

“That shocked me because I can’t think of a better place to live,” Miller said. He began researching how communities can be more welcoming. Being dog-friendly was always right up there.

“Residents walking dogs in their neighborhoods make people feel safer,” he said. “And a dog is like a baby carriage. It invites you to get to know your neighbor.”

Miller thought he landed on a good site. The city’s public works garage at 851 Femrite Drive has about one acre of open space adjacent to it, part of it already fenced, he said. He took his idea to the Public Works Committee.

Members thought better sites might be available, Miller said. A big concern was that the Femrite Drive site is not centrally located and not convenient by foot. Another concern was that the land might be needed one day for other city purposes.

That sent city staff looking to existing city parks. Four were identified as possibilities. Then the debate really took off. At a public hearing before the city’s Parks and Recreation Board last month, opponents outnumbered supporters two to one.

“There was a whole litany of concerns — noise, safety, parking,” Miller said. “Some people thought property values would be compromised.”

Some residents feared the city was ramming a dog park through without enough public scrutiny. That was not the case, said Ald. Chad Speight, chairman of the parks board.

“My view is we were simply trying to gauge what people wanted and didn’t want,” he said. “The goal is to reflect the will of the people.”

No decisions have been made, he said, and it’s early in the process.

Miller said he thinks much of the opposition has been to specific sites, not to a dog park in general. He plans to push for reconsidering the Femrite Drive site.

“If I were a betting man, I’d say we’re not going to retrofit a dog park in anyone’s backyard,” Miller said.

Given the feedback already received, that’s probably accurate, Speight said.

The parks board is studying the issue and likely will make a recommendation to the City Council at some point.

The dog park issue is spurring the city to rethink a current ordinance that bans dogs — leashed or unleashed — from all Monona parks. There seems to be support for allowing leashed dogs in at least some parks, Miller said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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