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Dog park meeting draws opposition, support
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The second meeting on a the idea of a dog park in Rockdale County drew vocal opposition from residents wary of the potential cost of the park and support from residents who thought it would improve real estate value and quality of life.

About 25 people gathered Tuesday evening at the JP Carr community center for the second public forum on the idea of having a dog park. The next meeting for public input on a dog park will be on May 17.

Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said he had thought of the idea about nine months ago at residents' suggestions but had begun seriously exploring the idea with Animal Control director Ciji Baker in the last quarter of last year.

Nesbitt repeatedly emphasized the exploratory nature of the meeting. "When we talk about exploring, we have to start somewhere. We are having this meeting. I wanted to hear the yeas and neas, whether you are in favor of it or not," he said.

Baker described how volunteers with local animal rescue and humane society groups and veterinary offices had broken up into three teams to come up with ideas for the design of the park, the financial aspects of the park, and public awarness of the park and any safety or marketing issues that would be involved.

The draft conception of the park would have an area for smaller dogs under 30 pounds and an area for bigger dogs 30 pounds or over. Baker displayed some of the draft rules that the public awareness team drew up. Dogs would need to be up to date with their vaccines and wear a rabies tag. Puppies under 16 weeks old would not be allowed, and youth 16 and under would need to be accompanied. Owners would be required to clean up after their dogs, would be allowed up to three dogs at a time, and were using the park "at their own risk," among other proposed rules and regulations.

Nesbitt described how funding for the project might come about through a public-private partnership, such as sponsorships, donations, advertising space or outright donation of land or funds.

He also emphasized that a location for the park has not been suggested. "We've not designated a location in Rockdale County," he said.

About seven residents spoke against the park and two spoke in favor of the park.

Resident Sharon Pharr said she had asked about projected costs on the park at the first meeting and had been told a projection was not available. However, she pointed out a document dated from December she obtained through an open records request had listed a possible projected cost of about $300,000 for the park.

Resident Jim Roppo said he thought the forum for public input was the right method for going about this project. However, "if we can't find a way to do it without having to increase our tax digest, I'm afraid this isn't the time to do it," Roppo said.

Resident Laurie Todd said she had volunteered on one of the teams on her own off time and during Baker's off time. She said understood the concerns bout cost but added she had lived near dog parks in places she lived formerly with the military. "There's a positive flip side to this. If it enhances our community, I hope we explore this."

Resident Mike Cluck said he favored dog parks and had seen how dog parks were used to make real estate more attractive in Gwinnett. As for concerns about liablity, he suggested asking other counties and municipalities with dog parks about how often they had run into lawsuits because of the dog parks.

Resident Brian Jenkins, who previously announced his bid for the Commisison Chairman seat in 2012, said if Nesbitt was using the meeting as a vehicle to gauge public opinion, "if this group says we don't want it, you must follow," he said."$300,000 to a dog park when people are looking for jobs, it's a horrible idea."

Resident David Williams agreed with the opposition saying this was not the time for a dog park but suggested using exisiting park properties. "I think it's a good idea but bad timing," he said.