JEFFERSON PARK — Plans for a dog park at Austin-Foster Park have been stalled after new Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) decided to withdraw his support for the project.
Plans for the dog-friendly area have been in the works since 2018, but Gardiner now says he’ll refocus ward funds previously promised to the project to pay for street repairs and address flooding issues instead.
Notifying residents last week, he told the group that he received a petition from neighbors who opposed the dog park with about 360 signatures, said Maggie Daly, a treasurer of the committee working towards the dog friendly area.
The dog-friendly area at Austin-Foster Park, 6020 W. Foster Ave., was picked as one of the projects ward residents voted on during former Ald. John Arena’s 2018 participatory budgeting cycle. It was one of 17 ballot items that 761 ward residents voted for over a 20-day period that year, and the dog park garnered 290 votes.
Gardiner, who ousted Arena in the February election, said he’s withholding funding from the project because he received a petition from more than 300 nearby neighbors who oppose the project. The group has failed to address their concerns and failed to provide a petition of support “from residents within five-block radius, in each direction, of the dog park,” Gardiner said.
“Additionally, the group has not created the 501c3 required to raise funds for the proposed dog park, failing to raise any funds towards construction or ongoing maintenance for the site,” Gardiner said.
In an effort to address Gardiner’s concerns, the committee launched a new petition last Wednesday asking for people to sign in support of the Austin-Foster dog park project.
As of Tuesday, 217 people signed the petition in support of the project. The committee also plans to knock on doors in the five-block radius that surrounds the park to get more signatures.
As for Gardiner’s concerns about the committee’s nonprofit status, the committee says they’re in talks with Friends of the Parks to be their fiscal sponsor once the Chicago Park District approves the project.
“We are not aware of any [dog-friendly area] committee that has established 501c3 status or began their fundraising efforts prior to Chicago Park District approval of the proposed [dog-friendly area],” the committee said in a statement to Block Club. “We cannot speak to the 300 resident signatures or the concerns expressed in the petition as we have not been given access to it.”
Without menu money, the committee would need to raise the $100,000 on its own on top of an additional $50,000-$75,000 needed to build the project, Daly said.
“We want to respect the people who are concerned because they’re our neighbors too,” Daly said. “But we also want to represent the people that have put their faith in us to get this done.”
If approved, the dog park would be installed at the northeast corner of the park.
In the 45th Ward’s participatory budgeting cycles ward residents as young as 14 were able to vote for which projects should get funding, which concerned some critics of the project.
“Fourteen years olds don’t need to vote. They don’t pay property taxes and they’re going to tell me they want to put a dog park here?” questioned John Angelopoulos, a neighbor who lives across the street from the proposed dog park site.
Angelopoulos walks his dog Mia, a Dachshund-Chihuahua mix, around the park about four times a day. Because the park’s fields are so large, he doesn’t see a need for a dog-friendly area where owners can have their dogs run around off leash.
Angelopoulos is worried excessive dog barking would only add to the noise in the area, as planes fly over the neighborhood and cars on the expressway can already be heard. He’s also concerned the dog park won’t be kept clean
Neighbor Yvonne Stott, who has two dogs, said she’s still excited about the proposed dog park, despite the setback. While there are dog parks nearby at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave., and Portage Park, 4100 N. Long Ave., the convenience of it being right across the street is one of the reasons she supports the project.
“I want to volunteer to help keep it clean and take care of it,” Stott said. “I’m more than happy to pick up poop and all that other stuff.”
“I voted for Gardiner because I knew he would give me that dog park,” Stott said.
Every year each of the city’s aldermen are given $1.32 million from the city’s capital improvements budget to spend on infrastructure needs. Aldermen have the power to pick which projects to spend those funds on. While some open the process up to the public using participatory budgeting, others simply handpick projects at their discretion.
One of the most common ways aldermen choose to spend this money is fixing their ward’s potholes.
But this practice has come under fire many times, including earlier this month, when Inspector General Joseph Ferguson told Mayor Lori Lightfoot the city should take the pothole power away from aldermen and give it to engineers at the Chicago Department of Transportation.
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