Mr. Kraus' chief of staff, Ken Wolfe, opened the meeting at the South Side Market House by providing a brief history of what brought the 70 plus residents out to the meeting. He explained after a brouhaha last year over dog owners using Armstrong Field, the District 3 councilman called the first Town Hall meeting at the Market House.
"There was no clear division," Mr. Wolfe said with virtually half the residents wanting the park for dogs and the other half wanting no dogs in the park. What was clear to the public officials was that, "we needed to find a place for a dog park."
Mr. Kraus' staff searched his district for city property that was big enough for an off-leash area, a minimum of one acre, and found a site in South Side Riverfront Park that fit the bill. The site, between 18th and 20th streets in the park is on the right side of the road entering the park, between the entrance and the boat launching ramp. The proposed site is approximately two acres.
Duane Ashley, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Pittsburgh, supplied the reality check for those attending the meeting when he told them, "There is no do park as of today."
"This project is not funded, it's a vision of Councilman Kraus," he continued. "If we can create this…it's your vision."
Director Ashley said the proposed off-leash dog park at South Side Riverfront Park is a $200,000 plus project that will be not just a park for dogs, but a "democratic gathering place" where pet owners and non-pet owners can get together in a social environment.
In creating the design of the park, he said the city has become smarter and listened to dog owners.
"You simply can't throw up a fence or split rail. This (off-leash dog park) will be a result of our due diligence," he said.
Repeated questioning from members of the audience on the cost and timeline for the project, pegged at taking a year and $200,000, when they expressed a desire to return to Armstrong Field drew a response from Councilman Kraus.
"It's the (city) code, it is the law of the city that dogs aren't allowed off leash anywhere," he said adding that dogs aren't permitted in city playgrounds at all, even if they are on leashes.
Director Ashley said they are thinking "globally or regionally, we're not looking as a specific neighborhood" in establishing what they hope would be a destination park for all city residents.
In the short term, one dog owner asked, could the city put up some "barriers and cables so we can get back to our routines?"
Councilman Kraus expressed concerns over setting up a temporary off-leash area citing the problems a build up of urine and feces in the soil could create for pets in the area and the liability the city could face in allowing pet owners to use the space. He said, however, that if a private property owner choose to allow dog owners to run their dogs off leash, that might be acceptable.
"Is there some kind of makeshift park that we could make in the meantime," another pet owner asked.
"When you open up an area, such as Armstrong Park, you open up the area to all dog owners not just those from your neighborhood," Mr. Ashley replied.
Mr. Kraus added that the city under Act 47 isn't permitted to borrow for capital project and there isn't funding available for a dog park at this time.
"Give us something temporary so we can mobilize," another dog owner pleaded.
The city officials said that the project was designed to be done in phases.
Mr. Ashley said a key to even a temporary dog park is for owners to have their pets under control, either on a leash or under voice control.
"We could clear that area (in South Side Riverfront Park) and put down some aggregate," he said to cheers. "But when you talk temporary solutions, you sometimes get long term problems."
One immediate problem is that the cost of fencing in the area alone is estimated to be more than $67,000.
James Sauer, owner of J.T. Sauer & Associates, landscape architects, took the floor to explain what is in store for pet owners if money is found to build the off-leash area at the riverfront park. Plans call for removing the debris in the area and flattening the parcel to road level. There will be walkways located throughout the landscaping that will serve several purposes: first to encourage people to walk about the park and also to buffer the dogs from seeing other dogs entering the park and getting excited.
Preliminary plans call for three sections to the off-leash park: a large dog area; a small dog area; and, a public art area where additional parking will be located in the existing park. The two dog areas will be joined by a pathway and several gates to keep the areas separated. Having two dog areas will also allow one side to be closed for maintenance such as turning the soil to eliminate a buildup of waste.
"This is going to be a destination spot," Mr. Sauer said. "We're not looking to make a dog toilet here, we're looking to make a dog park.
The public art project was already in the works for several years and is expected to complement the dog park. Plans call for placing a large sculpture of two steel workers made from steel recovered from the Hot Metal Bridge and the former steel mill on the site.
A dog owner suggested using Bandi Shaum field on the South Side Slopes (above Mission Street) as a temporary dog park while funding is found to build the permanent park.
Mr. Wolfe said they looked at the property when they were looking for a suitable location for the dog park but noted that there was little parking and the land was less than an acre in size. The public official said they would look into the site again to see how the property was zoned and if it could be used for the purpose.
"Don't take from this meeting that this is a commitment to make (Bandi Shaum) a temporary dog park," Director Ashley cautioned.
"I witnessed here tonight that there is a lot of passion between dog owners and their pets," Councilman Kraus said in beginning to wrap up the meeting. He suggested those in attendance, and their friends and neighbors who want to see a dog park in South Side, begin calling and writing the mayor, other members of council and their state representatives and senators to urge them to help find funding for the project.
The councilman urged the audience to begin a petition that could be submitted to the mayor and council to show that the residents of South Side want the off-leash area. Before leaving, several area residents volunteered to organize the petition in the neighborhood.
"It's possible to find funding to do this one part at a time," Mr. Wolfe said before adjourning. "If there's funding for one part and not the other, next year we can do the one part."