By C. Julia Nelson

Sandy Springs City Council members may be in the doghouse no matter what they decide regarding a possible dog park at Ridgeview Park.

The Sandy Springs Pooch Park Pals want a safe place for their dogs to run and play, unleashed, within the city limits.

Pooch Park Pals are volunteers who act as stewards to the parks providing general maintenance and cleaning services. Additionally, the group has raised about $15,000 in private funds to add to the $25,000 already allotted by Sandy Springs City Council for the purpose of creating the dog park.

On the other side of the fence, neighbors living in the immediate area surrounding Ridgeview Park are wary of increased traffic, lack of enforcement of current leash laws and oppose adding a dog park to a park that is rarely maintained and has limited space for other recreational activities.

The catch 22: everyone is concerned that people continuously disregard the law and let their dogs run unleashed, putting children at risk.

Last Wednesday, about 100 people attended a town hall meeting, at the Church of the Redeemer, 5185 Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, to discuss a one- to two-acre, fenced-in space for local canines to run amok without bothering others in the 20.2-acre park. District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio arranged the meeting to collect information as to how and if council should proceed with the dog park.

“We have had numerous complaints of people using Ridgeview Park as a dog park, taking their dogs off-leash and just letting them run free. People are afraid to use the park because the dogs are running around off-leash,” DeJulio said.

Under the current law, it is illegal for a dog to be unleashed in a park. This violation is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and 12 months in jail.

DeJulio said regulations would be set to limit use of the park to Sandy Springs residents through the issuance of dog tags. Dog owners would have to purchase memberships to use the designated area for a nominal fee, providing proof of residency in Sandy Springs as well as proof of rabies immunization for their dog at the time of purchase.

“Ridgeview is the one place we seem to have some space for a dog park. It is the most underutilized park in Sandy Springs,” DeJulio said. “If we have a designated area for dogs to exercise and play, we can enforce the rest of the park with the leash law so you and I can go there and play and not have the dogs bother us. Right now we don’t have that.”

Dianne Fries, District 2 representative on Sandy Springs City Council, said Morgan Falls Park had been examined as a potential site, but deemed inadequate for immediate needs.

“The property that we have at Morgan Falls is too overgrown right now and it isn’t very level so it really doesn’t work as a dog park,” Fries said. “In the (distant) future there may be an area for it but for now you can hardly walk through it just to get the lay of the land.”

Doug Isenberg, who is building a home adjacent to Ridgeview, took a survey among his neighbors and found that most of them opposed the creation of a dog park down the road. Among his objections were increased traffic, health hazards, inadequate parking, a lack of adequate acreage and irresponsible dog owners who do not clean up after their dogs, whether at the park or on the sidewalk leading to it.

“(Ridgeview Park) is now a crown jewel of Sandy Springs; a dog park however, in my opinion would ruin it,” Isenberg said. “I’m not opposed to the idea of a dog park, but Ridgeview is clearly not the place to put a dog park.”

Jeff Shapiro, a Pooch Park Pal, said the responsible action at this time would be to create a safe place for dogs to run free without creating a hazard for other people who want to enjoy the parks.

“‘Not in my backyard’ is not the right consensus for the whole community,” Shapiro said. “We need to have an area for the dogs to run free. I hope a decision is made for the good of all Sandy Springs.”

DeJulio said that after brief talks with Fulton County Board of Education President Julia Bernath, there is a possibility of an exchange between the schools and the council relative to Ridgeview Park. It would involve the city providing Ridgeview Middle School with a deed to the access road off GA 400 to utilize during a future expansion of the school in exchange for access and additional parking to Ridgeview Park.

After nearly two hours of emotional debate, DeJulio found the issue at a stalemate of sorts and indicated more meetings will be held in the near future to continue the discussion. In the meanwhile, Sandy Springs City Council will continue researching the project and collecting information from area residents about the issue.

For details on future public hearings regarding the dog park issue, DeJulio suggests signing up for e-mail announcements at www.sandyspringsga.org. Information about the Pooch Park Pals or making a donation to the cause of creating a dog park is available at www.parkpride.org.

The next Sandy Springs City Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, August 14 at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

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