The Brookhaven City Council approved at its Aug. 14 meeting to spend up to $50,000 to install a fence around five acres of Brookhaven Park to be used as an off-leash dog park. The vote brings closure to a years-long and often contentious debate between dog owners and those opposed to off-leash dogs in the city’s namesake park.
A compromise on the fence line enclosing the five acres at the back of the approximate 15-acre park located at the corner of Osborne Road and Peachtree Road was reached between the Brookhaven Park Conservancy and the newly formed Brookhaven Park Association just hours before the mayor and City Council’s 3:30 p.m. work session. A proposal made last month to have just a straight fence stretching across the back five acres was scrapped.
Members of the Brookhaven Park Association cheered the final vote.
“This plan has a whole lot of something for everyone,” BPA member Kathy Veitch said during public comment before the vote. “I’m excited about the fenced in area that will provide a sense of security for everyone. The fencing also helps define the area where people who don’t like dogs or don’t want to be around dogs know not to come in.”
Thad Ellet, president of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy, thanked the council following the vote for getting in the middle of a “dog fight,” alluding to the many contentious meetings it took to reach the final compromise.
“The only real sadness is that we have to put up fences to seal the deal,” he said. Making off-leash dogs legal in the park is also a “big deal,” he said. City ordinance requires dogs to be on leash in the park, but it has not been enforced. Brookhaven Park over many years became a de facto off-leash park for many living in the city and metro Atlanta.
The fenced in area in the northwest corner of the park will include the current pavilion. A new pavilion and new playground will be built in the front part of the park as the Brookhaven Park master plan moves forward.
Actual installation of the fence will be delayed until a walking trail around the perimeter of the entire park is cleared. Parks and Recreation Director Brian Borden said that should not take long and the fence could start going up in the next several weeks. The fence will be a 5-foot high chain link fence. Several dog entrances are planned around the fence.
The city had previously budgeted $245,000 for a fence. The balance of what is spent on the fence installation will go toward construction of the new pavilion, according to City Manager Christian Sigman.
Councilmember Bates Mattison, whose district includes Brookhaven Park, voted in favor of the contract with Marietta Fence Company despite his dissatisfaction with the compromise, saying it “split the baby.”
“The great downside is we have a huge fence chopping up our park,” he said.
He had hoped the city could continue working toward a more progressive compromise where there would be certain hours of the day when the entire park could remain an off-leash dog park and natural area. But fellow council members did not support that option.
Mattison also asked the council to defer voting on the fence line until after a master plan was approved. But council members said they have received enough public input to believe it was time to make a final decision.
Mayor John Ernst praised the agreement, saying it creates the largest off-leash dog park in metro Atlanta. Nearby Dunwoody, which went through a similar battle over its dog park several years ago, has a 4-acre dog park at Brook Run Park.
Putting in a fence that both sides of the argument agreed to also brings to a close a debate that has raged for years, he said, adding there has been hurt feelings on all sides of the issue.
“This is the compromise we have been looking for for years,” Ernst said during the work session. “In the end, we have the largest off-leash dog park in the metro area and this allows us to have closure on this and allows us to move forward. This is a big win.”
In a prepared statement, Ellet of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy said an off-leash dog area has always been part of the Conservancy’s plans since it was founded a decade ago. The council’s vote is a “major milestone” for the Conservancy, he added.
“We can now focus on our next priority, a new playground to serve the many neighborhood children,” he said.
“We were also very pleased the City Council approved funds to design a new pavilion with bathrooms, to be located next to the playground, an important feature for families with children. This new pavilion will provide shelter for community gatherings/events and be available for the many other Brookhaven Park users,” he added.
“Brookhaven Park Conservancy is committed to honoring users’ desires that Brookhaven Park remain a large, free-play, un-programmed, natural green space for all to share,” he said.