Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dog Park follow-up

Upper East Side Neighbors Bark Over Planned Dog Run Privileges

BY Annie Karni - Special to the Sun
April 5, 2007

The city's plan to convert a former heliport on the Upper East Side into a 5,000-square-foot dog run this summer has neighborhood dog owners at each other's throats over whose dogs will rule the run.

Under a Community Board 8 resolution passed in February, the 63rd Street heliport is to be turned into a $1 million waterfront dog run complete with a seating area for dog walkers, watering holes for their pets, and lush landscaping.

When it opens this summer, the dog run will mark a vast improvement over the concrete slab at Pavilion Park near 60th Street that neighborhood dog owners have been using as a makeshift run, the chairman of Community Board 8, David Liston, said. He said he had expected the new run to please community dog owners.

Instead of rejoicing, however, neighborhood dog owners are up in arms over which dogs would be allowed to play with each other in the new space.

Owners of small dogs say the current plan, which does not divide the space into separate sections for different-size dogs, creates a safety hazard for their diminutive pets.

"They're maximizing the park for the large dogs and forgetting that small dogs have different needs," a small-dog owner, Zahra Meherali, said.

Ms. Meherali, who works as a manager of a pharmaceutical company and has become an outspoken proponent of creating a small-dog-only zone in the run, says she travels everywhere — including to Fashion Week — with her five-pound Yorkshire terrier, Sigmund Freud.

"I'm freaked out that someone could just walk in with a large dog that's not well-behaved," she said. "We need a place where we can let our little monsters run free in a safe space."

Her fears for Sigmund Freud's well-being multiplied, she said, when a Shih Tzu was killed earlier this month by a larger dog at a Union Square dog run.

Owners of large dogs on the Upper East Side say that because of a dearth of open spaces in their dense neighborhood, they can't afford to lose any of their new park space and that dividing the dog run would significantly cut down on the open space available.

Community members have written letters to their elected officials claiming that a "proposed long and narrow design would lead to dog aggression and safety problems." Leaving the large swath of land open for dogs to roam freely would "maximize the space for the sake of safety for everyone," they wrote.

"There's a school of thought that big dogs and little dogs should socialize," Mr. Liston said. The opposing camps plan to hash out the details of the dog run tonight at a Community Board meeting.

The site in question has not been used as a helicopter landing pad since the 1990s, when a helicopter crash led Mayor Giuliani to close the pad because the idea that it was too close to residential buildings, Mr. Liston said.

The landing pad, which the city's Economic Development Corporation oversees, is being used by the State Department of Transportation as a staging ground for highway reconstruction.

When that work is completed later this year, the Economic Development Corporation has agreed to turn the space over to the Parks Department for conversion to open space for the community, a spokeswoman, Janelle Patterson, said. The agreement was reached last summer under a provision of the New York City Charter that allows community boards to propose plans for development. The dog run is part of a larger revitalization plan that would convert 24,000 square feet of land surrounding the Queensboro Bridge into park space with waterfront access.

Dog runs in the city are created at the request of community boards, a spokesman for the parks department, Warner Johnston, said. "Sometimes there's a need for a small dog run, and sometimes the need isn't there," he said. The city does not require dog runs to allocate space solely for small dogs.

"I'm confident the community will come to an agreement that will be suitable for all the dogs in the area," Council Member Jessica Lappin, who represents the neighborhood, said. She said she did not have a good sense of whether most of the dogs in her district are large or small. Ms. Lappin, who earmarked $325,000 of the city budget for the revitalization of the area surrounding the Queensboro Bridge, said that tonight's meeting should be productive because owners of dogs both large and small will finally have to address each other face to face. "I think it will be possible to come up with a compromise," she said.