Off-leash master plan update pushed into next year

The Seattle City Council’s focus on updating its biennial budget, coupled with the holiday season, is pushing the timeline for introducing the parks department’s master plan for off-leash areas for dogs to next year.

Residents weighed in on Seattle Parks and Recreation’s draft master plan for off-leash areas during a public hearing at the Miller Park Community Center on Sept. 22. 

The city council directed the parks department to work with the Seattle Coalition for Off-Leash Areas on the master plan. COLA created an addendum to the plan, which was briefly touched on by its executive director, Cole Eckerman, during the September hearing.

“We’ve been doing some rewrites based on discussions between Parks and COLA,” said Dewey Potter, SPR communications manager, adding most of the items in the addendum are likely to make it into the final draft of the master plan. “We can’t promise things that we can’t deliver; that’s the thing.”

She said SPR superintendent Jesús Aguirre is firmly against a proposal by COLA to consider establishing times when parks allow letting dogs off leash.

Eckerman tells the Capitol Hill Times COLA wants a feasibility study to see if it would work in places like Cal Anderson Park. 

“There’s got to be a way that we can make this work in Seattle,” Eckerman said.

A voice and site rule – where a dog owner would have to be able to see and successfully call their pet when asked — would still be enforceable, she said.

“We don’t want to go down the road of unfenced areas,” Potter said, “because we don’t have enforcement. We have one person for enforcement.”

Eckerman said COLA argues there is not much public land left for development, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods in Seattle. 

“We want to make sure that we’re breaking down any equity issues possible,” she said. 

SPR now has a staff member dedicated to working with COLA on the master plan, which didn’t exist in the 1 1/2 years since planning began. 

COLA is also providing input on several potential OLA pilot sites in each of Seattle’s city council districts. Eckerman said William Grose Park in Madison Valley is a prime candidate, as it has no play structures and would need just two sides of a fence added. Living two blocks from the park, Eckerman said she know it’s already being used as an unofficial off-leash area.

Plymouth Pillars Park on Boren Avenue has the most used OLA in Capitol Hill, but access is not easy for people who have to drive, Eckerman said, and it’s not very big.

“There’s a community forming there,” she said, “but it’s not an ideal park, for sure, and it’s not really a park; it’s a pocket park — it’s so tiny.”

COLA has been tasked by SPR to provide a list of recommended capital improvement projects. One recommendation is resolving stormwater backups at Westcrest Park, Eckerman said, so dogs avoid the potential for bacterial infections.

Through Seattle Park District funding, the parks department was granted a budget line item for OLAs in 2015, receiving $104,000 a year annually. Eckerman said when SPR didn’t have a dedicated line item, the department was spending around $169,000 a year on off-leash areas.

“When it was a non-funded project, we were getting more money than when it’s a funded project,” she said.

COLA will attempt to grow support among city officials to put a portion of Seattle dog licensing fees toward funding off-leash areas, as well as off-leash fines.

Potter said the city’s Neighborhood Matching Fund program could also be a source of funding for developing additional off-leash areas.