By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini gained the City Council’s support last night to apply for a grant to build a dog park in the city.
Fiorentini proposed having two fenced-in areas at the rear of Riverside Park. One area would be for small to large dogs, another would be just for small dogs. Both would have double gates for security. He said he wanted the council’s support before he applies for a grant through the Stanton Foundation that would pay the bulk of the costs.
“Everywhere I go, dog lovers come up to me and say, why don’t we have a dog park in Haverhill?” Fiorentini said.
Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette outlined a plan that calls for converting a green area not used for play or for picnics into a small fenced-in park for small dogs. An adjacent fenced-in area would be for large dogs, and also accommodate owners of small and large dogs.
Ouellette said the plan calls for asking dog owners to register with the city and pay a nominal fee. He said the revenue would help pay for maintenance and by having dog owners register, the city would have a record of who is using the area.
Ouellette said the city wants to apply for a grant through the Stanton Foundation, which would provide financial support to underwrite the design, construction and partial ongoing support of a new dog park. He said preliminary design grants range from $15,000 to $25,000 and construction implementation grants would cover up to 90 percent of the cost.
He said to qualify for the grant, the city must agree to fund 10 percent of the construction cost, provide ongoing maintenance and gain community support for a dog park.
Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he was on a commission in the past that studied locations for a dog park in the city, but that each of three proposed areas came under fire from neighbors. He said he supported the mayor’s proposal but worried that neighbor’s would oppose it.
Sullivan said that if Riverside Park doesn’t work as a location for a dog park, to consider looking at Winnekenni Park or the Plug Pond area where dogs won’t disturb anyone.
Councilor Ryan asked about maintenance and suggested a dog park would require waste receptacles and free bags for dog owners to use.
He said one concern was for dog urine accumulating in the soil.
Ouellette told councilors that the area chosen for a dog park is far from homes and that dog urine would be neutralized by periodic applications of lime.
“We’re also looking to alleviate the issues that are ongoing there now,” Ouellette said, explaining that dog owners are bringing their dogs to Riverside Park.
“If we can get them off the ball fields, keep the mess contained to one area, I think that’s a plus,” Ouellette said.
“The reason this is going to be successful is we’re not reinventing the wheel,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said, adding that people living in the downtown are also asking for a dog park in their area.