Dog park tabled until issues with location, maintenance resolved

Tom Milstead/Lingle Guide Planning and Zoning Commission members Dee Hankins, Gary Korell and Louis Kuhnel listen as Holly Hatley explains the plan for the Candy Thompson Memorial Dog Park during a public meeting Tuesday night.

TORRINGTON – An application to turn an unused portion of a softball field in Jirdon Park into the Candy Thompson Memorial Dog Park has been tabled by the City of Torrington Zoning and Planning Commission so the applicants can conduct further research on liability insurance, infrastructure and possibly a different location for the proposed park. 

The commission voted 6-0 to table the application. The motion to table the proposal was requested by one of the dog park’s organizers, Holly Hatley, who said the group would like to conduct some more research into the potential issues the park would face. The group will not appear before the Torrington City Council next as originally planned, but will regroup and appear before the zoning commission once more. 

“I think it might be in our best interest, because we were supposed to meet with the city council next Tuesday,” she said. “I think considering where we’re at with a lot of the issues and unanswered questions, possible other properties – maybe we should just table it for a while and give us some time to research that. I really don’t want to go to the council unprepared. I would want some time to maybe explore this a little further. 

Commission member Gary Korell agreed with Hatley. 

“I agree,” he said. “I’d rather solve as many of these issues as we can right here in this planning commission before we go to the council.” 

The commission and the applicants, Michael Thompson and Holly Hatley, discussed several issues constructing the park on the out-of-bounds outfield portion of the softball field, directly north of the Dale Jones Municipal Pool. Several community members spoke to the board in favor of the project, and 11 people showed up in support, including Thompson and Hatley. 

The biggest issue for some members of the commission was if the city could be held liable in the instance of a dog attack. 

During the meeting, Building Official Dennis Estes read a letter from Mayor Randy Adams that raised a number of concerns, including the liability issue. In the letter, Adams wrote he had spoken with the Local Government Liability Pool, which insures the city, and the LGLP recommended not to operate a municipal dog park. 

“They know and recommend to municipalities with dog parks, the liability issues increase – therefore they don’t recommend it. 

“There are concerns that, since this will be enclosed, dog bites, dogs in contact with other dogs without up-to-date shots, dogs impregnating other dogs, dogs with illnesses and those responsible for what happens in the enclosure become responsible. The City of Torrington will be blamed for allowing these situations to exist and not acting to prevent them and be held liable for those incidences.”

Commission member Louis Kuhnel echoed the mayor’s concerns, and asked the organizers if they had considered covering a liability policy for the dog park. 

“Has there been any discussion within the committee that they would attempt to protect themselves by obtaining a liability policy and to further indemnify the City of Torrington?” Kuhnel said. “When you get two dogs together or three dogs together, we don’t have to talk about if there’s a bite – there’s going to be a bite.

“Right now, I think the City of Torrington could be brought in as a deep pocket, whether they have insurance or not.”

Hatley said the group would look into obtaining such a policy, but pointed to a pair of dog parks in Casper operated through the city’s parks and recreation department that show municipal parks are possible. 

“We need to get some more information and do some more research,” she said. “I’m going to call them and try to get some more information.”

“We’ll definitely check into it. We haven’t considered doing something like that, but we can definitely check into it.”

Another major concern for the commission was the location of the proposed park. In his letter, Adams called the Jirdon Park location “the worst possible site” for the dog park. 

“The City of Torrington has tried to offer alternate sites outside the city limits, some other sites on city property and sites on county property,” he wrote. “We believe that their chosen site is the worst possible site. The site is the outfield of the only girls softball field specifically dedicated to that activity… It will have intensive use through the summer months .

“The City of Torrington would rather not have a dog park within the city limits. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss other, more
favorable locations.”

In addition to the concerns over the use of the softball field, Estes said the current dog park plan would require an extensive overhaul of the facility’s sprinkler system – an expense that could cost up to $30,000. 

“I will tell you, looking at the plan, you would have a major cost in sprinkler repair and moving the sprinkler system,” Estes said. “To me, it looks likes with this plan you would need an entirely new sprinkler system. You’ll have stuff shooting into the gazebo, the waking track would get wet every night – that’s all going to have to be dealt with.”

Thompson initially told the board he would keep working toward the Jirdon Park location until it was no longer a possibility, but the dog park supporters were open to considering locations in vacant city lots along Highway 26 east of town. 

“It seems to me, that’s the way to go,” Kuhnel told the supporters. “The way Dennis was talking, you’re going to end up paying. The city council is not going to step forward and say ‘ok, we’ll put an all new sprinkler system in there.’ I don’t see that happening. You’re going to have the expense for a system in a large area.”

Korell agreed with Kuhnel, and told the supporters the project would be much more viable in a different location. 

“I’d like to see some more information on this,” he said. “I’m not against that dog park. I’m not totally sure I’m in favor of that location, either. I think you folks need to look and visit with the mayor some more about alternate locations. I’d certainly like to see this dog park go.”

Maintaining the park was another are both the mayor and commission expressed concern. Adams wrote in his letter that the city would not maintain the dog park, and expressed concern about what could become of the park after a few years
of operation. 

“In the longer scheme of things, we know what typically happens in dog parks,” he wrote. “The first season is great, the second season is fraught with difficulty – maintenance issues, liability issues, who is responsible, etc., and by the third year the facility will be a mess. The people responsible have moved on, their dogs have died, they have moved, etc., and the city takes it back in worse shape than it was when it was entrusted to the caretakers of the park.”

Estes said the city has been forced to take over several projects, such as the municipal skate park and walking path, after special interest groups started the project, then moved on. 

“The skate park started just like this,” Estes said. “Four years down the road, they all left and the city ended up with the skate park. The walking path was someone else’s deal, which was a great idea, but they zero-scaped everything – which is supposed to be this no-maintenance stuff. The city had to replace all of that after about five years. 

“The city just ends up with all of that stuff.”

Hatley said the group is examining partnerships with local community service groups to maintain the dog park, as well as build a strong community around the park that would maintain it. 

“I would hope that wouldn’t be the case, but obviously that’s something that has to be taken into consideration. Our hope would be that we could get it going and then it would become a trend just like it is everywhere else. We’re hoping it’s something that the city would want to keep as an asset. Our goal would be that it continues to stay strong and this committee that we have, we hope it would continue to generate more people into it. If the time comes when we’re not able to help with it, there would be people coming up that would help with it.”

Several members of the commission did express their support for a dog park, though the proposed location would have to be reconsidered. Estes told the commission that he would be willing to work with the dog park committee to figure out a way to make it work. 

“I would be willing to work with these folks for the next week,” he said. “We could see if we could come up with some better logistics.”

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Tom Milstead/Lingle Guide Planning and Zoning Commission members Dee Hankins, Gary Korell and Louis Kuhnel listen as Holly Hatley explains the plan for the Candy Thompson Memorial Dog Park during a public meeting Tuesday night.


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