Laconia City Council gives green light to dog park developers

LACONIA — After meeting no objections from the City Council, Happy Tails Dog Park intends to proceed with plans to develop a dog park on city-owned land in the South End by presenting an engineered plan to the Planning Board in September.

Brie Elliott, president of Happy Tails, a nonprofit corporation, told the councilors that both the the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Board had raised no serious issues after reviewing the conceptual plan for the park. She said that if the council considered the location appropriate, Happy Tails would invest in proceeding through the planning process, which she expected would cost between $1,500 and $2,000, as well as begin a fundraising campaign to finance construction and operation of the park.

Elliott explained that Happy Tails seeks to lease four or five acres at the southeast end of the parcel located between the dead end of Spruce Street and the Lakes Business Park  to house a parking area, access paths and two fenced dog parks, one of 1.3 acres divided in half for small and large dogs and another 40 feet by 20 feet for puppies. She said that the park would be larger than most dog parks in the state and the play pen for puppies would be unique.

The city purchased the land in 1976 with a Land, Water, Conservation grant from the federal government, which restricts the property to recreational uses.

The park would be approximately 640 feet from the nearest residence, but closer to Scotia Technology at the foot of Growtth Road, in the industrial park. However, Elliott said that the hours when the park was likely to be most heavily used would not coincide with the workday at the plant.

Elliott explained that there are nine urban dog parks in the state — in Concord, Portsmouth, Hooksett, Manchester, Derry, Rochester, Nashua, Conway and Dover — seven of them on municipal property, but only four managed by the municipality. Happy Tails would ask to lease the land at no charge while itself bearing all the costs of constructing, managing and maintaining the dog park, including the insurance required to indemnify the city.

The agreement would run for five years, after which the city would have the option to either renew or cancel the lease or assume management of the dog park. The agreement between the city of Manchester and the Manchester Dog Park Association, she suggested, could serve as a model for Laconia.

Elliott estimated it would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to construct the park, depending on how much of the labor and materials would be donated. She said that the park would be maintained by volunteers at an annual cost of between $1,000 and $2,000.

Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, said that dog owners use the city parks and playing fields, which can pose problems with waste, and the park would provide an option. He said that a dog park would be a "good use for a property that has sat idle since it was acquired."

City Manager Scott Myers said "it is not a big gamble for the city to take on a project like this," adding that there are plenty of successful precedents around the state.

City Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) said that in addition to the plan for the park itself, he would expect Happy Tails to demonstrate that it has the financial capacity to construct, operate, maintain and insure the park.

Elliott said that the organization, which numbers some 400 members, has been pursuing this project since it incorporated in 2008 and expressed her confidence that the funding would be forthcoming.