VIDEO: Naples unleashes approval for new dog park

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— Naples City Council members were wagging their tails about the off-leash dog park on Wednesday. A backup funding plan led to an about-face with unanimous approval for the park.

Earlier in August, Councilwomen Teresa Heitmann and Dee Sulick, along with Councilmen Gary Price and Sam Saad, voted against budgeting the park in 2011.

The city has enough money, thanks to donations, to build the park, said Community Services Director David Lykins. The bulk of the $187,000 initially estimated to construct the park is already collected.

The criticisms, however, included concerns whether donations would continue to be donated at rate to cover operation and maintenance expenses.

“I’m very adamant that we have a plan in place about how this is going to be paid for,” Saad said. “It didn’t seem appropriate to spend money on the park after agreeing to cut about $700,000 from the budget to keep the millage rate the same, including cutting from police.”

The dog runs, located on the city-owned property at 99 Riverside Circle, will include fenced-in play areas for large and small dogs, drinking fountains for dogs and humans, shade areas, benches and low-maintenance irrigation with native landscaping.

Initially, both the construction and maintenance were to be paid for through private donations. However, lead proponents, including Matthew Kragh, the Naples architect who designed and supports the park, came back to council with a proposal to institute user fees if donations don’t cover those costs.

Annual passes will only be required if user fees are instituted, Lykins said.

That proposal sold it for all seven members Wednesday as they approved building and creating rules for the park.

The park will primarily be managed by volunteers with landscaping done by city contractors and then reimbursed by the donations, said Lykins.

Administratively, he said, the city will likely only be handling complaints. Minor concerns, such as cleanliness, will be handled by the community services division. The more serious concerns, such as a dog bite, will be handled by the Naples Police Department. Both departments are located near the park.

Another selling point, at least for Price and Sulick, was clarifying that the city would retain the land for other uses should the dog park be unsuccessful for any reason.

No one from the public spoke to oppose it. Residents present planned to speak in support of the dog runs, but said they saw the change in direction and chose not to speak to council prior to their vote.

After their decision, resident Joe Sfara said he was pleased with their support of the park, which should come with no taxpayer expense.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” said Sfara, who has lived in Naples for about 17 years. “There seemed to be something here for everyone... Everyone except dog owners.”

“It’s the only legal place in the city to let your dog off a leash, except for possibly in your own backyard,” he said.

Park rules will be posted at the entrance and include: Hours are from dawn to dusk; there is a maximum of two dogs per person; dogs must be at least 6 months old; they must be supervised by someone at least 18 years old; dog owners must clean up after their dogs and assume all liability; prong, pinch, choke and spiked collars are prohibited; dogs must be licensed and immunized; no smoking, alcohol, human food or glass containers are permitted.

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