A growing and increasingly vocal group of Canby residents is opposing the long-delayed plans to develop a dog park on six acres of city-owned property on Northeast Territorial Road, citing concerns about safety and increased traffic as well as the project’s cost, location and environmental impacts.
One of the project’s opponents, Cara Hawkins, voiced her objections at the Canby City Council’s meeting Wednesday and presented a petition signed by more than 360 Canby residents opposed to the location.
She began by describing herself as an avid dog lover and said she is “all for a dog park” — just not this one.
“When the master plan surveys were done, I was one of the folks who responded,” she said. “I marked a dog park as high on my list of priorities. But the question was, ‘Do you want a dog park?’ Heck yeah!
“Had the question been ‘Do you want a dog park that is on the corner of a busy intersection, in direct contradiction with the [National Recreation and Park Association] siting criteria, in a location that already enjoys a healthy, functioning, off-leash dog park at the cost of $900,000?’ my answer would have been an emphatic no.”
Dog park siting criteria from a May 2022 draft of the city’s recently updated parks master plan:
Click to access Pages-from-city_of_canby_-_recreation_master_plan-f1.pdf
The Territorial Road location, or “Three Sisters Ranch property” as it is sometimes known, includes a total of 34.5 acres and was purchased by the city in December 2008 for future expansion of the wastewater treatment plant and park development.
Its southernmost six acres have been tabbed for a dog park for at least a decade, since the members of a city-appointed Dog Park Advisory Committee identified it as the best available site at that time.
City officials signed an interdepartmental agreement to exchange land and develop the dog park at that location in August 2012, but the project was eventually shelved due to lack of funding, especially for parks maintenance throughout the city’s existing system.
Today, opponents believe the property is no longer suitable for a fenced dog park, with Hawkins saying she can think of no good reason to build it at that location other than “that was the plan 12 years ago.”
“The Territorial location is too expensive, not safe, will interfere with the traffic for the fire department and public works, will add congestion to an already busy intersection, will add activity to an area that is desperately needed by the wildlife displaced by all the recent growth and will add another dog park on top of an already existing one,” she said.
The existing, unofficial dog park at the Territorial Road location consists of a basic gravel parking area and receptacles for trash and dog waste set up by the city.
It is patronized by a dedicated group of dog owners who enjoy the location’s natural beauty, open spaces and accessibility — and do not want it to change — a point made Wednesday night by another commenter, Mary Doak, who lives nearby.
“Unlike a fenced dog park, it is an ideal setting for people to stroll and meditate and get their daily walking exercise while their dogs enjoy just being dogs,” Doak said in a letter that was read aloud at the meeting.
“Many people use this park, both Canby citizens and visitors from surrounding cities. They drive the distance because no other city offers anything like this. Most owners say they would not bother driving to Canby if we built a fenced park that would be no different than their local dog parks.”
Doak said she and many of those who use the current, informal park on Territorial Road have various reasons for not liking fenced dog parks.
“If you visit here and talk to the dog owners, you will hear story after story of why they prefer the open fields of this beautiful green space,” Doak said. “You will also learn why they will not go to any fenced dog parks. This crown jewel of dog parks is so unique and found only in our city.”
Canby does have another unfenced, off-leash area for dogs at Molalla River State Park — a location that has been floated as a possible place for the city to develop the fenced park, in partnership with the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department.
The project’s opponents include the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which passed a motion this week formally objecting to the Territorial Road location and urging the council to vet other sites, including the state park and the Honda Pits, a 14-acre, city-owned property on Northwest 3rd Avenue near the Canby Skate Park and Canby Police Department.
Council President Traci Hensley and Councilor Shawn Varwig also oppose developing the park on Territorial Road, saying this week that they believe the discussion about location should be reopened and that alternative sites should be considered.
“The council owes it to the citizens of Canby to properly vet the other, much better-suited locations,” Hawkins said Wednesday. “You owe it to yourselves if you have any hope of holding onto your seats, [to take] a real, hard look at exactly what you are doing here.”
Though no formal price comparisons or engineering estimates have been done for other sites, the topic of alternative locations has come up multiple times in recent months as the planning for the dog park has moved forward.
Councilor Chris Bangs told Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Chair Barry Johnson at an August 17 Canby City Council meeting that both the state park idea and Honda Pits property had been “looked at.”
“We don’t own the state park, so we can’t really build a dog park there. And the Honda Pits don’t satisfy the requirements that the parks committee recommended that we use,” Bangs said, citing the property’s proximity to residential neighborhoods and an active railroad and its steep grade.
“I looked over those recommendations and the [American Kennel Club] recommendations for dog park siting,” he said. “They say they should be on the edges of town. I just don’t think the Honda Pits work for a dog park. We did look at that, but we made the decision in December to locate this thing along Territorial.”
On Wednesday, Varwig referred to the earlier comment by Bangs as a “false statement.”
“I just want it to make sure it’s on the record that I’m not in the ‘we’ that looked at other locations,” Varwig said.
“Ditto,” Hensley said.
In terms of costs, city officials say the $900,000 price tag for the dog park was the amount that was budgeted for the project but may not be what is actually spent.
The figure contains more than $100,000 in contingency funds, as well as an $80,000 reimbursement of the city’s sewer funds that were originally used to purchase the property.
“The most current estimate we have for the dog park at the Three Sisters property location is $770,000,” City Administrator Scott Archer told the Current this week. “This estimate is based on full buildout with everything included, and includes all optional items.”
That figure would significantly outpace other recent parks projects the city completed, including the new pickleball complex ($400,000) and splash pad ($425,000) at Maple Street Park, new playground and upgrades at Locust Street Park ($240,000) and skate park ($241,000).
None of those projects included the addition of parking, restrooms or some of the other structural elements that are currently part of the dog park’s design.
The current plans for the project include an approximately 2.75-acre fenced area for active dogs and a second, smaller fenced area for shy dogs, along with an asphalt parking area and access on North Redwood, benches and covered shelters, restrooms, signage, bike racks, paw-rinsing area, dog tunnel and a 10-by-10-foot “doggy time-out area.”
Archer said the city will likely solicit bids from contractors that would contain options for reducing the cost by excluding nonessential items or selecting lower-cost options for certain components.
“In other words, there will be a list of alternative bid options to consider which may decrease the total cost of the project,” Archer said. “As with any project, we will not know the actual price until we’ve done a competitive bidding process and we receive bids from contractors.”
Archer said city staff is not aware of any reason that building the dog park on the Three Sisters property would be significantly more expensive than doing so at any other, similarly undeveloped site in Canby.
“The only known cost difference attributable to this site is the repayment from the dog park project to the sewer fund for reimbursement of property purchased by restricted funds,” Archer said.
Canby Planning Commissioner Chris Calkins, who said he was speaking as a private citizen, on Wednesday said the city should move forward with the park at the planned location.
He drew comparisons to Maple Street Park, the Canby Swim Center and Canby Fine Arts Center — three projects that he said faced similar opposition from what he termed “a very vocal, angry minority.”
“You know, and some of you have been on City Council for a long time, that no matter where you put this park, there will be 20 angry people here who don’t want it near them or think it’s in the wrong place or think it’s too expensive,” he said. “The history of Canby is filled with that.”
He said the city has ample funding available in the form of several million dollars in parks SDC (system development charge) funds, which are fees paid be developers and can be spent only on building new parks or expanding or adding new amenities to existing parks.
“We could have a great dog park,” he said. “We’ve got the money. We’re sitting on millions of dollars. My tax money. I feel like the city’s like the dragon from the end of Lord of the Rings 3. What are you doing with that stuff? Let’s get some stuff going.”
Reopening the discussion about location would only further delay the project, he said, something he believes has been a problem with some of the city’s more recent park development efforts.
“It feels like things are kind of slow-walked to death,” he said. “Not a lot of things are happening, and when it does happen, it’s not great. We’ve got a skate park that’s not used, next to a police station. We were the last mid-size city to get a splash pad, and it’s kind of lame and in a terrible spot. …
“I would implore you not to reopen the conversation. The spot was identified years ago. The city’s done all the work. You’re almost there. I don’t know why you would stop it now. Get it across the finish line.”
Councilor Greg Parker said he appreciated the tone of the discussion Wednesday night and encouraged the city’s park board members and other residents to remain engaged on delivering other projects the citizens have asked for and addressing other needs identified in the master plan.
“We’re not always going to come to the same conclusions, but I think that which unites us is greater than that which divides us,” Parker said. “And whatever happens at Territorial, we’ve got a lot of other stuff to work on.”
He said he would support reviving plans to develop a sports field complex in Canby, something that has been sorely desired by residents, community and school leaders and local business owners for years, but which has struggled to find funding and a suitable location.
Three years ago, the city appointed a community task force and hired a consultant to study the feasibility of siting a multi-use complex of fields and courts on land owned by the Canby School District behind Lee Elementary School and Ackerman Middle.
But that project stalled when the estimated price tag for the facility came in much higher than anticipated.
“I don’t want any group left behind,” Parker said this week. “And youth are underserved in terms of city-owned facilities, and I’d like us to get on with that. There’s only so much oxygen in the room, and if we spend it only talking about one thing, we’re not going to spend it talking about the others.”
The City of Canby will host an open house at 6 p.m. Wednesday, September 28, to discuss the dog park and collect public input. It will include an overview of the design and concept plant and opportunities for public comment.
The meeting will take place in the council chambers of the Canby Civic Center, located at 222 Northeast 2nd Avenue.
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