There was a "hot-button" controversy raging at a South Side meeting June 5 at the Market House that had nothing to do with the usual complaints in the neighborhood about graffiti or the bad behavior from the crowded bar scene.
City Councilman Bruce A. Kraus of the South Side/Hilltop/Oakland district (District 3) heard complaints from numerous South Side Flats pet owners who want the Armstrong Park ball field between 12th and 13th streets (along Sarah) to be designated to allow their dogs to run free under their supervision.
In addition to the councilman, other public officials who spoke to the residents included Zone 3 Police Lieutenant O'Connor, Zone 3 crime prevention officer Christine Luffey and Dwayne Ashley, the director of Parks & Recreation.
In recent weeks, an ordinance has been enforced at the park, citing dog owners for letting their pets run free as some residents believe this is a threat to small children and public safety in general. The fine can cost up to $300.
At the start of the 90-minute meeting Mr. Kraus said he felt he was in a King Solomon position where the choice he would make would not make one group happy.
"This is a hot-button topic and we need to make choices in context of the law," Mr. Kraus said.
The vast majority of the people at the meeting were pet owners just seeking a place to safely allow their dogs to get exercise and socialization with other dogs.
Some of the dog owners also said walking their dogs in this area is also a good way to meet neighbors with similar interests.
The consensus was that they wanted a fairly large enclosed area with grass for their dogs. The Armstrong Park site fits the bill, save for an adjacent children's playground which could be cordoned off better if the fence separating the two areas were built bigger and stronger.
Mr. Kraus provided written material for the residents, explaining that it is against the law to allow dogs to run unleashed unless they are in one of four designated areas of the city: Upper Frick Park, Lower Frick Park as well as West Park and Observatory Hill on the North Side. The Frick parks both serve the Shadyside/Squirrel Hill communities. There are not designated dog parks on the south or west areas of the city. The residents at the meeting want to change that and Councilman Kraus has pledged to help although he admitted that it may be difficult to do it in a timely manner.
Officer Luffey assured the residents that the councilman is a tireless advocate for the residents of his district and believes he will do what he can to enact legislation that would make the ball field portion of Armstrong Park a dog park.
If that is not possible, Mr. Kraus said he hopes to find a suitable nearby alternative.
"I want this to work for all of you," Ms. Luffey said. "If this is going to happen, we must make it safe for everyone. Bruce and Ken [Wolfe, Kraus's chief of staff] are trying to accommodate all of you."
The public officials admitted that the current park, designated for ball-playing, is not really conducive for such activities, at least at the organized level since it is a relatively small park of approximately one acre.
Mr. Ashley said he considers Armstrong Park to be more of a parklet and not really a full-fledged park. Just about everyone agreed that there are rarely any children playing any type of sports activity: baseball, football or soccer, in that field.
Mr. Ashley said he has seen adults playing softball at the field once in a while, but he would not be too concerned about them losing that site as a ball-playing area since adults have transportation to move to other playing fields. He noted that young children do not have the option of mobility and must be content to play within walking distance. However, this does not seem to be a problem in this case since the park is rarely used by kids.
There were a handful of dog owners at the park who believe in a designated off-leash area, but they still emphasized that playing facilities must also be available for children.
Mr. Kraus said he plans on meeting with the residents again on this issue until a solution is found.
Mr. Kraus said he may have to seek special funding for this to become a reality, especially if another site is found for the dog park.
Despite being more aware of the pet-owners problem, Lt. O'Connor said anyone letting their dogs run loose at the park will still be subject to possible citations and fines.
"The law is the law and dogs must be kept on a leash," the lieutenant said.
Mr. Ashley, who lives in one of the city's southern neighborhoods, said that before his pet recently died, he would take his dog to run loose across town at West Park.