The format of the meeting, not what some were expecting, involved attendees visiting an easel in each of the four corners of the community room to see the area the City is working on and to give their input to a planning consultant.
“We’ve got four stations, so four people at a time can go in and speak to the representatives from Greenberg Farrow [the consulting firm developing the master plan],” explained Parks and Recreation Department Director, Brian Borden. “We’re giving each individual a comment card, so they can go in, look at our site plan, give their comments on the comment card … and the representatives of Greenberg Farrow will take those back, and help to develop the plan from the comments that we have.”
Borden said he and the consultant will take all of the comments and suggestions in to account and see how they can be implemented into the master plan.
Since the city does not own the land yet, Borden says there is no way to determine how long it will take to complete the plan. He explained that the National Park Service will have to sign off on any agreement between Brookhaven and DeKalb County, since the park was once the site of a Veteran’s Administration facility.
Brookhaven residents had various opinions on the nature of the dog park, ranging from fenced enclosures for the dogs, to allowing unleashed dogs to run freely.
Andrew Wells, a 10-year resident of Brookhaven regularly brings his service dog Angel to the park. He supports fenced enclosures, but wants a four-acre dog area instead of the two-acres in the current version of the plan.
“It’s the only place I know that she can be a dog and run. She runs like a deer,” said Wells. “I understand there’s a large number of us that want things to be unchanged. I’m in that number. But I understand that can’t be. It’s illegal.”
Wells says the city has a liability with a dog park that’s currently fenced on three sides, and dogs have left the park. “They have been hit by cars, and it can’t continue, obviously,” he adds. “I want a dog park there that I can support. And I think that that’s about four acres.”
Councilman Bates Mattison, who represents the area surrounding the park, said the city needs to address the safety concerns at Brookhaven Park and the safety issues the city could be responsible for with having dogs running around off-leash, and how that fits in with citizens who just want to get outdoors and utilize the park.Genie Stringer, who lives directly across the street from the park, said there are several different issues. “We do want an enclosed dog park. We like it the way it is, but still, enclosed would be nicer … nobody objects to having a wonderful playground area for children. Every parent I’ve talked to would like that enclosed too, like they do at Briarwood. You don’t want the kids wandering out into the street. You don’t want the dogs wandering into the street.”
Some residents object to fencing the off-leash area, however, such as Joe Dietrich who says Brookhaven Park is the only place where he can take a dog off the leash, and he wants to keep it that way. “And we also don’t understand why they’re trying to fence off a certain part of that just for dogs, if the dogs don’t hurt anybody,” he explained. “I’m 88 years old, and we’ve never had a problem with the dogs, and I have a small dog. A little Shih Tzu. And he plays with these big dogs and gets along great.”
Asked if she had strong feelings about the park, Ellen Westrom replied, “Hell yeah. My feelings are it should remain as it is, as an off-leash dog park, and a pickup sports area, because there’s no [other] place where people can just come and play kickball, or volleyball … and they do need to make an improvement on the playground. But there’s eleven or twelve, or thirteen other parks that are devoted to kids.”
Her husband, Dave Westrom, also had strong feelings. He said, “Regarding this park, the easiest way I can put it is I’m a conservative zealot. I like the park as it is. And it’s my observation after coming to several of these meetings, that people who are in charge of doing upgrades have not listened, at all, to the will of the people, and are trying to make this park everything to everybody, but they’re trying to answer questions that aren’t being asked … the people that use this park are very, very adamant, and very zealous of their ability to walk their dogs, off-leash and not be curtailed in any way, shape or form.”
Mr. Westrom says there is a peaceful coexistence with people that play sports and people who want to come in and do special events. He says there is enough room in Brookhaven Park for everybody.
Don Neustadt, who lives a quarter mile from the park, said he wanted dog owners to be able to utilize the park, but thought they should help pay through fees and a “donate a brick” program.
Additional parking spaces in the existing plan drew objections from some residents. Dr. Ken Kukla said there are only about five events a year where extra parking would be useful. “It’s just like a company,” he said. “You wouldn’t staff your company for 365 days a year for that one month of Christmas shopping.”
Ms. Stringer said in her opinion, the prettiest place in the park is up near the pavilion where there are little picnic areas. “It’s just lovely on every level,” she said. But according to Stringer, that’s where the city is talking about putting in parking, which she feels would “take away beautiful greenspace.” “I live just next door, and that means I don’t want to be looking out at a parking lot,” she said. “Nobody wants that.”
Borden said that after the park property is deeded to Brookhaven, further input from citizens would be solicited before a plan is finalized.
The existing plan, which the city says will be revised or scrapped in its entirety for a new one, includes a proposed nature trail, an “all” dog park with group shelters and a restroom, expanded parking, a small dog only park, a multi-use trail, new restrooms and a children’s play area.
“We need to find a balance in making sure that we meet the needs of our constituents,” Mattison told The Post. “We certainly have a tremendous number of dog users who use this park that has become known as a de facto dog park, and we’re trying to make sure that their interests are reflected as well as the other people who just want to use the park, but don’t have dogs, and want to make sure that their kids are safe, and they can go to the playground.”