Proposed as a potential East Falls dog-park location, a small parcel of Philadelphia Parks Commission land now sits at the center of neighborhood scrutiny and debate.
The site proposed by the East Falls Community Council’s (EFCC) Dog Park Committee — located between the 4000 block of Ridge Ave., Kelly Drive and Scotts Lane and accessible via an alleyway — would have three separate lots merged near 3265-67 Old Bridge Road.
One lot is undeveloped, another is privately owned and the third used to be a public swimming pool that’s long since been filled and graded.
Anything to potentially happening with the land is contigent upon resolving any property claims at the site, according to City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s office.
“Everything is up for debate right now,” said Alex Keating, a member of the East Falls Community Council and its Dog Park Committee. “We would like to achieve community consensus around this issue. But, the park as such is still probably several years down the road in any case.”
How they got there
Members of the dog-park committee have actively sought a location in East Falls for more than a year.
A core group of volunteers approached the Parks Commission asking about sites on Fairmount Park-managed land in August.
With conditional support from the commission, the group finalized its current version of the plan in early September (PDF). Committee members said that support required assurances that near neighbors of the site were on board with the plan.
In October, supporters circulated flyers to homes and businesses in the 4000 block of Ridge Ave. inviting them to a Nov. 1 meeting.
Many residents claimed that that was the first time they’d heard of the proposal to turn land bordering their backyards into a dog park. That makes sense since committee members said the plans hadn’t before been made public.
Mounting dissent between the dog-park committee and an increasingly organized group of neighbors came to a head at EFCC’s November meeting.
The Ridge Avenue group’s concerns can be divided into two categories: Safety/quality of life and procedural issues.
“We’re not against a dog park in East Falls. We love dogs and all sorts of other animals,” said resident Mona Zaoudeh of the latter concerns. “The process of locating the site for a dog park in our neighborhood is a community-wide effort, and we are all interested in supporting and contributing to that effort.”
Speaking on behalf of the Dog Park Committee, Keating urged community members to consider that the EFCC strives for complete transparency.
“Any neighbors desiring to be involved with the projects we take on should come to a meeting and jump in,” he said. “We welcome and hope for the participation of the entire community.”
It seemingly circles back to timing for the Ridge Avenue residents who said they were brought into the process too late regarding a site for which they toiled to reclaim from short-dumpers who abandoned cars, appliances, construction waste and other refuse there.
Adding another layer of confusion is a deal brokered by Jones’ office in which both the EFCC and the Ridge-Allegheny-Hunting Park Civic Association (RAH) share oversight of that particular section of East Falls.
That arrangement created a situation in which, at times, parties have appealed to one of the two groups, but not both.
Disputing the proposal itself
Regarding the proposed plan, the issues are much clearer.
Ridge Avenue residents said they’re worried about increased human, animal and vehicular traffic along the alleyway separating their backyards from the proposed site. Translation: An already cramped space would become significantly more crowded.
According to Zaoudeh, the alleyway — which provides access to the rear entrance of approximately 20 houses and businesses — is already used by an estimated 40 people and 30 cars.
That increased traffic could introduce a host of safety and security issues including, but not limited to, dogs running loose, the possible contamination of yards and driveways by dog waste and the possible use of the dog park as a cover for various types of criminal activity.
Ridge Avenue residents are currently working with RAH and a representative from Jones’ office to draft a letter to the Parks Commission addressing these concerns.
“This is not the last best prospect for a dog park in East Falls,” according to the residents’ collective statement.
“We understand that the Dog Park Committee has worked hard to get this far in their planning over the last year, and we are sympathetic to their cause,” it continued. “But, there are still other sites in the neighborhood for a dog park than this one.”