Officials weigh value of proposed dog park

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NAUGATUCK — One of the several open parcels in Naugatuck may someday become a dog park.

The borough recently conducted an open space study locating unused land throughout Naugatuck. A major goal of the study was to determine whether the parcels could be converted into athletic playing fields. Parcels that cannot be turned into baseball, soccer or other sports fields would be left untouched and unused.

One crowd, though, thinks these unused grounds can hold great value. They claim to know creatures that can make great use of the terrain: their dogs.

A dog park committee, headed by Board of Education member and dog enthusiast Rocky Vitale, has recently submitted a business plan to the borough and the Park Commission.

“Right now we’re only looking for the basics,” Vitale said. “We’re looking for a closed-in area, a big place for the big dogs, a little place for the little dogs and a good amount of parking.”

The Park Commission is looking over a report drawn up by the Department of Public Works detailing what parcels of land would be available for the proposed project.

“Right now the properties available have yet to be decided,” Director of Public Works Jim Stewart said. “There was an open space study done, we’re going to take that study and work with Pat Wagner to determine a few specific locations.”

Vitale hopes to have a list of possible sites from the Park Commission by the end of July.

“We’re taking a list of parcels that the town owns and analyzing and checking what is available,” said Pat Wagner, chairman of the Park Commission. “Right now, it’s just in the first stages of the project and there is not one site standing out over any others.”

The committee has formed a small team, which Vitale also heads, to survey the various locations.

The largest roadblock to the dog park is the cost, and specifically the cost of erecting a fence around an entire parcel. Fencing is not cheap, and as of right now, the committee has no funding.

“The big hurdle is going to be fencing,” said Vitale. “Fencing is going to be very expensive. We are looking to get between fifty and sixty thousand, either from a grant or from the state, to get the fences up.”

The committee will ask for the grant money, but it is far from a guarantee they will acquire any funds.

“It’s definitely something that’s an option, said Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo. “Unfortunately there’s not a lot of funding coming down from Hartford right now.”

Vitale though, is hopeful the money will somehow trickle his way.

“I’ve already talked to some contacts I have with the state; even though it’s hard, there’s always money available somewhere for something. Were going to see what we can tackle and what we can get.”

The remaining money will be gathered, Vitale hopes, through fundraising and donations. The Park and Recreation Department is considering opening a fund specifically for the Dog Park. Any monies donated for the dog park would go directly to the borough and into this special account.

There will be no price estimates for the dog park until a parcel of land has been decided upon. The appropriate tract should be between one and three acres of land, much like the nearby dog parks in Southington, Southbury and Bethany.

Another obstacle to the project is the need to amend a borough ordinance. A current borough ordinance declares no citizen can take his or her dog in public without a leash.

The amendment would have to be reformed to allow canines to roam free in this particular space. The adaptation, Mezzo said, would involve a vote by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, and could be done relatively quickly.

The park itself may not solely be a place for town citizens’ four-legged friends to meander, but a forum for doggy knowledge, as well.

“I really envision this as not just a place to bring your dogs and play,” Vitale said. “I’d like to call Mark, who trains the State Police dogs, and say, ‘Hey, can you come down on Saturday and give a demonstration on the dogs?’ I’d like to call veterinarians and say, ‘Can you come down and talk about dog health?’ I’d really like for this to be a learning thing, too.”

If the dog park is to come to fruition, the citizens using it would be accountable to clean up after their pets, but the town would take care of all additional maintenance.

“We would be doing the grounds maintenance, mowing the lawns and emptying the trash receptacles that would be there,” Wagner, the park commissioner, said. “We would be maintaining it just like any other borough park.”

Some believe a dog park, despite the obstacles to the development of one, would enhance the borough’s overall appeal.

“If this happens, it may entice people to move to Naugatuck, or businesses to come to Naugatuck, you never know,” Vitale said. “It can be a way to promote the town of Naugatuck, and that is absolutely great.”

“It’s definitely a great idea, and Rocky is doing a great job,” Mezzo added. “It’s something that would increase the quality of life and add to the value of the community.”