LINCOLN SQUARE — A group seeking a dog park at Winnemac Park has the backing of a Lincoln Square alderman and conditional approval from the Park District. The next step is to start asking neighbors to support the project.
But at least one neighboring group — the local school council at Amundsen High School — has come out against the proposal.
Neighbors voted to set aside $100,000 in ward menu money for a dog park at 5100 N. Leavitt St., Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) announced earlier this year. The money has to be spent for that purpose by 2023 or it goes back to the city.
Last week, the Winnemac Park Dog Friendly Area Committee committee announced the Park District gave conditional approval to its application. The committee must now conduct a yearlong site survey of the area where the dog park would be built and get community buy-in.
“In order to garner support, we need to know the pros and cons that are coming from the community,” Nikki Kuehl, the dog park committee’s co-chair, said at a Wednesday meeting. “We definitely want to have discussions and get people’s frame of mind.”
Winnemac Park is set on 22.38 acres and is part of the city’s school-park campus program. That means the land is owned by Chicago Public Schools and the Park District and is used by the public as well as adjacent Amundsen High School and Chappell Elementary School, according to the district.
On June 21, the majority of Amundsen’s local school council voted to oppose the proposed dog park, arguing it would reduce the available green space for student activities, among other things.
“The primary reasons for opposition included but not limited to concern over further reduction of campus park green space for our students who utilize for both academics and athletics in addition to our concern regarding future safety issues regarding long-term maintenance and upkeep given that neither Chicago Park District, CPS nor the Board of [Education] is responsible for maintenance of the proposed” dog park, council Chair Stephen Reynolds said in a statement.
In a statement responding to Reynolds, the dog park committee said Amundsen and Chappell’s students, faculty and parents are stakeholders whose interests are a “high priority” for them.
The Park District approval process requires members of the dog committee to attend public community meetings regarding their proposed dog park. The committee has asked to speak at an Amundsen local school council meeting to explain its goals and address concerns.
“We were told by both schools’ principals in their roles as gatekeepers to these constituencies that they are not able to take a position on a community matter, and [we] are disappointed to learn that a vote was held by the [council] without our awareness without having the opportunity to hear and address their concerns,” the committee said in the statement. “We still hope to have the opportunity to meaningfully engage with students, faculty and parents, and incorporate their needs into our planning.”
Regarding students’ use of green space, the committee said the yearlong site survey will help determine if there is an area that will not disrupt student- and child-specific programs at the park. The site survey also will keep track of the park’s use by other groups.
“Our plan is to learn from [dog park] committees what has made them successful, as well as learn from the mistakes of those that have not survived,” the statement said. “We intend to design a succession plan by building a dog parent community that will be relied upon thus creating a strong community around the [dog-friendly area]. A canine community already exists, and we have set forth a plan to build on that.”
Regardless of these assurances, Reynolds told Block Club the issue is a “non-starter” for him.
In addition to site surveys, the committee needs to collect petitions from neighbors in support of the park, letters of support from the police district and community groups and raise funds, among other things, to get final sign-off from the Park District.
Despite the council’s opposition to the proposal, Kuehl said the committee is undeterred and will keep trying to win over the neighbors by knocking on doors and attending other public meetings over the next year.
“At this juncture, we’ll seek whatever means we can to work with the schools’ communities to address their concerns as it relates to their buy-in for their proposal,” Kuehl said.
In addition to getting neighbors to support the plan, the committee needs to raise at least another $250,000 to pay for the project. The anticipated high cost is partly because the Park District requires a new dog park to have a water line.
“We do know we already have a fundraising commitment from the alderman’s office with menu money for $100,000. But we do know building this park is going to be about $350,000 to $500,000,” said committee member Ann Regan. “So the more people we can get involved to help us, the better.”
For more information on the committee’s dog park efforts, visit its website.
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