LOGAN SQUARE — For the last 15 years, dog owners in the 1st Ward have tried and failed to get a dog park built in the Logan Square/Bucktown area.
Now, new 1st Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata is restarting the community-led effort with what he hopes is a more streamlined planning process.
More than a dozen neighbors, some frustrated after years of “broken promises,” gathered Monday evening at La Spata’s ward office for a town hall meeting to “get everyone on the same page” about the status of the dog park.
But it could be too late. In the time it’s taken to get the project off the ground, the Logan Square and Bucktown neighborhoods have exploded in popularity and there are now very few viable sites in the area.
“I’m hoping that it’ll be different, but I’m also not blind to the fact that there may not be [a site for it], and if we don’t have that, then there’s nothing we can do about it,” 35-year-old Bucktown resident Lauren Kirlin said after the meeting.
The alderman’s office has identified two sites as possible options: The lot at 2658 W. Cortland St. and the lot at 1858 N. Washtenaw Ave. Beyond those two sites, there’s not much else out there right now, the alderman’s staffers told neighbors at the town hall meeting.
But that wasn’t always the case, according to longtime Bucktown resident Cheryl Noel.
Noel, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1998, said there was an opportunity to get the dog park project done several years ago, but fights with neighbors who opposed the project and broken promises on the part of former 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno prevented it from happening.
“At that time, there were lots of vacant lots still. There was a way to solve this problem, but they all chose not to. Instead they just kept the community out of that process,” Noel said.
At one point, when things got especially heated among neighbors and Moreno, Noel strapped a sign to her Terrier mix, Henry, that read, “Hear our bark, we want a park!”
“We would march him through the neighborhood with his little sign,” Noel said.
Noel said La Spata is the third alderman dog owners in the area have met with on the subject since the early 2000s. She said the conversations date back to former 1st Ward Ald. Manny Flores.
“Manny Flores decided not to run again. It wasn’t that he didn’t see the need — he just wanted to move on,” Noel said.
According to Noel and other neighbors, it was Moreno who twisted the knife. He promised neighbors city-owned site at 2460 W. Cortland St. and funding, but the dog park project never got off the ground. The site is home to an old building formerly occupied by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation. Most recently, the dog rescue One Tail at a Time was looking to move into the building, but the plans fell through.
“It was very heartbreaking. … There were a lot of promises made — sites, funding — and it turned out pretty much everything he told us was a lie. That’s very unfortunate to see from an elected official,” Bucktown resident Bill Anderson-Blough said.
The need for a dog-friendly area in the Logan Square/Bucktown pocket of the 1st Ward is only intensifying as the neighborhoods continue to attract young people with dogs, according to neighbors and the alderman’s office.
Noel’s husband, Ravi Ricker, pointed out this demographic shift is also to blame for the lack of sites.
“We’ve watched over the last 10-15 years the potential sites dwindle, and they all turn into buildings. And a lot of those buildings are buildings with dogs in them. The problem is the opportunities have gotten fewer,” Ricker said.
Some dog owners have been using the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Cortland Street and Washtenaw Avenue as an unofficial dog park.
Others were using the fenced-in field at Maplewood Park, but angry neighbors started calling the police. The conflict pit neighbors against one another.
“It went really badly. I feel like the neighborhood, the [Maplewood Park] Advisory Council and the aldermen are all to blame for fostering the tension,” Noel said. “We’re all neighbors.”
Monday night’s meeting, held at La Spata’s office at 1958 N. Milwaukee Ave., was the first in what could be a series of meetings on the matter.
La Spata’s goal, his staffers said, is to cut through years of tension and confusion, identify what the community wants to see and chart a path to get there.
The project is still in the very early stages.
In order to build a dog-friendly area in Chicago, residents must form a committee, find a location that conforms to city guidelines, gather petitions, hold meetings, help configure a design and — most importantly — come up with 100 percent of the funds needed. The process could take several months, if not years.
Noel and other residents are already familiar with some of those steps. A few years ago, Noel said she gathered close to 300 signatures in support of a dog park, but they didn’t end up getting used.
Noel said she likes La Spata and his community-driven planning process but acknowledged that’s not going to get the project done.
“We think La Spata is awesome,” Noel said. “I’m only skeptical because we’ve been told by the Park District that there are not any eligible sites.”
Anderson-Blough agreed, saying, “It’s great to have this meeting with Ald. La Spata and get started again on a good foot. … There aren’t a lot of great options in the area so I’m just hopeful we’ll figure out a good way to live here with our dogs and our neighbors.”
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