Following extensive public discussion about a proposed dog park, Weston’s Planning and Zoning Commission is deliberating whether to grant an 8-24 referral for construction of the park.
The 8-24 referral process, which refers to section 8-24 in the Connecticut General Statutes, is a review of the “appropriateness” of the project for a specific parcel. In this case, the plan calls for constructing a dog park on approximately 3.5 acres of a 36-acre tract of town-owned land known as the Moore property.
P&Z has until Monday, May 8, to decide if the land is appropriate for that use. If a decision is not made, the application is automatically passed.
At P&Z’s meeting this Monday, member Don Saltzman was concerned about the lack of a contract between the town and the Weston Dog Park Committee, the non-profit organization formed to fund construction of the dog park.
“There’s an obligation between owners and tenants, and this group of people who want the dog park will be the tenants to the town,” said Saltzman. “We should know exactly what they are responsible for and what the town is responsible before in order to make a judgment.”
Town Attorney Pat Sullivan said the 8-24 referral is merely a step to judge whether or not the land is appropriate for the dog park. P&Z member Sally Korsh agreed with Sullivan.
“I think our responsibility, in the abstract almost, is to decide whether or not this is an appropriate use of town land,” Korsh said. “I don’t know if it’s for us to go through the business decisions that the town needs to make.”
Jane Connolly, co-chair of P&Z, said she views an 8-24 referral as broad and all-encompassing.
“I want to see specifics and to know where you are really going with this,” said Connolly. “A dog park may be good for our town, but how will it be used, what is the town’s liability if someone gets sued, how do we terminate the lease? There is a lot of stuff.”
First Selectman Nina Daniel said any property that would be used for a dog park would have those issues so that shouldn’t matter regarding the appropriateness of the Moore property for a dog park.
“This is putting the cart before the horse to have all of those details officially worked out before we have the property that we are using,” said Daniel, who added that the selectmen have been working on drafts of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Weston Dog Park Committee.
“I think we’re in the early stages of this process,” said P&Z member Ken Edgar. “My view is that more work should be done. I’ve got 30 questions I could ask about the premises themselves, the signs and the parking.”
Daniel asked if all that was in the scope of an 8-24 referral.
“In my mind it’s all relevant,” Edgar said. “What is going to be done to this property? We have to know what’s going to happen to this property to know its appropriateness.”
Town Engineer John Conte addressed potential traffic concerns and said he doesn’t believe a dog park would have an impact on traffic in the area.
He said adding approximately 15 vehicles, or the number of spots in a proposed parking lot, to the road, throughout the day, wouldn’t dramatically change the capacity of the road or the level of service.
At a previous P&Z meeting there was considerable public comment about the dog park, on Monday 15 members of the public spoke. Seven were in favor of the dog park, seven were opposed, and one comment was relatively neutral with a bent toward doing more work to find the best use of the land.
Gary Weist of Old Hyde Road said he wanted to address the “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) phenomenon.
“I live on Old Hyde Road near the town garage. The trucks come in and out and they’re great neighbors,” Weist said, adding that any available public space is going to be near houses.
John Matlock of Lords Highway East said there are two fundamental questions: Should we have a dog park? and Do we have the right property for it?
“I don’t think we’ve turned over every rock,” said Matlock. “I think we need to do a thorough study and if we do that we’ll have the answer to the first question.”
Maria Proto, founder of the Weston Dog Park Committee, said she has called “town after town” about their dog parks and they have all said the process has not been this hard.
She said she didn’t mean to disturb anybody but this is “just a simple dog park.” She added that many dog parks are in areas where people live. “Go to Lake Mohegan [in Fairfield], you drive through neighborhoods. Go to Cranbury Park [in Norwalk], you are driving on a road just like Davis Hill, with many more houses,” she said.
Frank Costello of Lords Highway East said the Moore property is home to lots of animals, including a lot of coyotes.
“If we leave little dogs unattended, who knows what will happen,” said Costello. “Putting a dog park there would definitely relocate coyotes, deer, turkey, and more that keep that area as their home.”
Toward the end of the meeting, P&Z officially closed public comment, but said members will continue to discuss the dog park among themselves at a special meeting on Monday, April 24. That meeting will be in the Weston Library Community Room.