TO:                  Mayor and Town Council

FROM:            W. Calvin Horton, Town Manager

SUBJECT:             Report on Potential Locations of Dog Parks

DATE:             January 22, 2001

This report updates the Council on the Dog Park Committee’s progress, includes the Dog Park Committee’s recommended sites for consideration, the Manager’s review of potential sites, and recommends future steps for potentially developing one or more dog parks in Chapel Hill.

The attached resolution would authorize the Manager to notify persons who own property within 1,000 feet of the potential sites listed in this report of the February 12, 2001 public forum.


After Council discussion and input from citizens and advisory boards on use of Merritt Pasture, the Merritt Pasture Access Committee was convened and charged with recommending what types of activities and levels of intensity are appropriate for Merritt Pasture. The Council also created a Dog Park Committee to identify potential town sites for dog parks.

The Dog Park Committee presented an interim report to the Council on September 11, 2000. At that time the Council asked the staff to analyze the sites proposed by the Dog Park Committee and also asked the Committee to limit the number of potential sites to be discussed at a public forum.

The Dog Park Committee then asked the staff to provide to the Committee an analysis of each of the potential sites listed in its interim report prior to the Committee’s paring down its initial list of sites.  Through this process, the Dog Park Committee developed a list containing the five sites listed in this report. 


The rapid population growth in the Triangle region has made space for available free range for dogs and their owners increasingly scarce. As a result, dog owners frequently use park space as a place to exercise and socialize their pets. Rather than banning dogs completely from parks, we believe it may be desirable to accommodate dogs and their owners in a way that does not compromise other park users’ leisure opportunities.

Designating areas where dog owners can allow their animals to run off-leash could avoid a conflict of free running dogs and their owners with other park users. Research by the National Recreation and Park Association and the American Kennel Club shows that communities with developed dog parks have experienced a decrease of public complaints about violations of leash laws.

We believe dog run areas may be an added attraction to our parks by creating a unique recreational and social outlet for dogs and their owners. Dog parks can serve as positive communal gathering places—both for animals and people. Designated dog areas are recognized as promoting behavioral socialization for dogs and responsible pet ownership for people.

Issues such as potential conflicts between people and dogs, noise, start-up and increased maintenance costs, removal of fecal matter, environmental damage, and a scarcity of land should also be considered when examining the potential for a dog park in Chapel Hill.

Elements of a Successful Dog Park

The most important aspect of creating a dog park is selecting a proper site.  Park planners recommend that dog parks should be located within a designated area of an established park.  The site selected should be relatively low-use to avoid taking land away from other user groups. However, it is possible to develop other unused areas such as open space, if other land is unavailable.

It is essential to gauge the anticipated amount of use the dog park will receive. Many existing dog parks suffer from over use because they are often the only off-leash facility in the area. High volume use may require shutting down portions of a dog park for repair. Reseeding the grass, particularly around the gate area, is a common maintenance concern. Dog crowding can create a series of behavioral problems. For this reason, it may be beneficial to establish more than one dog park site in Chapel Hill.

The staff’s research indicates that between one and five acres is the ideal size for a dog park, although many urban communities provide successful dog parks smaller than an acre. Smaller parks tend to suffer from overcrowding and overuse problems, particularly when there are relatively few dog parks in an area.

As with any park facility, the ground should have good drainage. This is particularly important or a site that will experience heavy use and is vulnerable to being damaged by running dogs.

In addition, it is also important to keep fecal matter and other waste from entering community streams and waterways. Many dog parks have fecal waste collection stations that include equipment for removal of waste and disposal bags.  We believe owners should be responsible for cleaning up after their dogs.

Enclosing the dog park site is essential. Fencing ensures that dogs will not escape from the enclosure and endanger themselves, other animals, or other human park users. We believe that any dog park is likely to attract owners of medium to larger size dogs and that any fence should be at least 6 feet in height to contain these larger animals. (The Dog Park Committee recommends that 4 feet in height fence is sufficient.)  We also believe fencing should be in keeping with the aesthetics of the area. Fences may be softened by the addition of landscaping.

We also recommend that the fencing have a double gate system and signs posting hours of operation and rules.


Start-up Costs

Signs and fencing are the minimum amount of equipment needed to construct a satisfactory dog park. Research shows that the necessary signs will cost approximately $1500 per park. Fencing costs depend on the material and the amount needed. The installation of a 4-foot chain link fence, with appropriate gate entrances, around a square one-acre area (43,560 square feet), for example, is estimated to cost approximately $10,000.  Using a 6-foot chain link fence for the same area would cost approximately $15,000. In addition, most dog parks include other equipment such as benches and water fountains, which are estimated to cost a total of approximately $3000, as long as a water tin is nearby. Scoop dispensers cost between $75 and $100.

Maintenance Costs

The maintenance of dog parks varies tremendously, depending on the size of the park. Dog parks typically require mowing and should be handled in the same way as other park areas. For example, the fenced area would have to be mowed and trimmed every one to two weeks; a one-acre size tract would require several hours every one to two weeks of routine maintenance to keep up with the grass.  

Trash containers should be emptied daily and waste scoops restocked when needed. While owners are typically required to clean up after their dogs, it is inevitable that some areas will be missed, especially if dogs are running free. We believe staff will be needed to clean up the area regularly. Clean-up rounds should be made weekly to make sure that the park is free from excessive waste. It is also recommended that the fencing and other equipment be hosed down frequently to prevent urine stains and odors.

Park professionals in other areas of the country estimate approximately $8,000 in annual maintenance costs for a ½ acre (approximately 22,000 square foot park). This includes about 3 hours per week in cleaning labor, refilling scooper dispensers, printing costs for dog park literature, and lawn care. In parks with high volume, turf maintenance is constant and can become expensive.

Due to high volume use most dog parks receive, it is often necessary to shut down at least portions of dog parks for repair. Reseeding the grass, particularly around the gate area is a common maintenance concern.

Suitability of Town Properties

The following potential sites are all Town-owned and could be developed as dog parks. We believe they should be considered further as potential dog park sites. Potential sites that could be developed as dog park sites include:

Cedar Falls Park: It may be possible to provide for a dog park on the north end of the park, south of the ballfields, and west of the tennis court access trail. Although this area is heavily wooded, it does have several advantages including: 


·        Not in the Resource Conservation District (RCD)

·        Adequate parking

·        Good access to potential dog park areas by using existing trails

·        Relatively flat

·        Already a popular dog destination

·        Located in area where major population lives

·        Low turf maintenance

·         Facilities present

·         Space for at least a one acre dog park area

·        Maintenance already on-going in park


·        Traditionally managed as open space

·        Disruption of existing trails

·        Potential conflicts between trail users and dogs traveling to the dog park

·        Potential neighborhood conflicts, particularly noise conflicts

·        Research indicates that open areas work better than wooded areas

·        Removal of trees to fence, etc. for dog park area

·        Thinning of brush, at a minimum

·        Heavy use may damage existing trees

Rear of Community Center Park: A dog park could be located within the grassy area that lies between the rear of the Community Center and the Parks and Recreation Department administrative offices. There are several advantages to using the Community Center Park:


·        Not in the RCD

·        Flat

·        Already mostly cleared site

·        Easy access from parking lot

·        Highly pedestrian accessible (juncture of two greenways)

·        Facilities present

·        Central location in town

·        Maintenance already on-going in park


·        Area may be too small--service road cuts through the property. This divides the property so that both sides are significantly smaller than an acre (the larger side, which includes trail access, is approximately 20,000 square feet)

·        Area is currently used as drop-in recreation space by neighbors

·        May be some neighborhood conflicts, particularly noise conflicts

·        Heavy use may damage existing trees

·        Parking is already problematic with existing park amenities

·        May be noise conflicts with nearby offices

Homestead Park: The committee looked at an area immediately adjacent to the parking lot that has both cleared and wooded areas. The potential dog park site is located on the east side of the parking lot south of the southernmost access trail that leads to the soccer fields, just after an entering car passes the entrance to the church. Advantages to these areas include:


·        Already mostly cleared

·        Easy access from parking lot

·        Adequate parking

·        Separation from other park uses

·        Already popular dog destination

·        Pedestrian oriented (adjacent to future greenway route)

·        Near large population area of town

·        Facilities present

·        Maintenance already on-going in park


·        Area may be too small—the area is approximately 20,000 square feet

·        Fencing may require removal of trees

·        Heavy use may damage existing trees

·        With athletic fields, etc. in use the park is heavily used—this open space already used as down-time area for park patrons

·        Fencing within the Booker Creek floodway may not be possible or desirable

·        Proximity to the stream could add fecal matter to the waterway

Southern Community Park: The site is a currently undeveloped parcel of about 74 acres. A dog park could be located anywhere on the property at this time. The Town is beginning a conceptual planning process for the site and expects that process to be completed in 2001. Advantages to the site include:


·        Greatest degree of latitude in siting a future dog park

·        Not in the RCD

·        Flat

·        Potentially easy access from the park and ride lot

·        Facilities will be present

·        Daily maintenance will be available

·        Demonstrated demand in that area of town (e.g., Merritt Pasture)

·        Could be set up on an experimental/interim basis


·        A dog park would take land that could be programmed for other uses

·        Not currently maintained

We believe that the Meadowmont Park property could be considered for inclusion in long-term plans for dog park development.

Meadowmont Park: One of the responsibilities of the developer of Meadowmont is to design and construct a park within the development.  Staff currently estimates that the planned park will be completed and transferred to the Town within 2 years. During the Meadowmont approval process, the Council and the developer agreed on a plan for the park that includes 4 athletic playing fields, an outdoor basketball court, a picnic shelter, restroom facilities, a parking area, nature trails, and a greenway running the length of the Meadowmont development. Further staff consideration is needed to assess the potential for a dog park area in Meadowmont Park as an addition or alternative to one of the other approved amenities.


·        Currently undeveloped so dog area can be integrated into a revised park plan

·        Flat

·        Parking available


·        Much of open land is in the Army Corp Flowage Easement in addition to the RCD—unlikely Town would receive permission to fence the area

·        Would need to ensure no runoff from dog park in flowage easement to a drinking water supply reservoir

·        Most of remainder of park is in the Resource Conservation District, where we do not recommend fencing

·        The approved Special Use Permit is very specific about what amenities the developer must build

·        Siting a dog park may be difficult due to need to locate ball fields between pockets of wetlands

·        May be noise conflicts with nearby passive recreation and potential school uses

·        Depending on location, there may be some neighborhood conflicts, particularly noise conflicts

Future Steps

We recommend that the Council proceed with a Public Forum scheduled on February 12, 2001, to discuss the need for a dog park(s) and potential sites. We recommend that all persons who own property within 1,000 feet of the potential sites listed in this report be notified of the forum.

At the conclusion of the Public Forum the Dog Park Committee would work with the staff to develop a final report, recommendations, and budgetary implications. We believe the report should be referred to the Planning Board and Parks and Recreation Commission and the Manager for comment.


1.      Memorandum to Mayor and Council, dated September 11, 2000 (begin new page 1).


WHEREAS, the Council has received input from citizens seeking Town sites where dog can run off-leash, and;

WHEREAS, the Council formed a Dog Park Committee to research potential, and;

WHEREAS, the Dog Park Committee’s interim report identifies several potential sites for dog parks, and;

WHEREAS, the Dog Park Committee and the Manager have reduced the list of potential sites to the following locations:

·        Cedar Falls Park

·        Rear of Community Center Park

·        Homestead Park

·        Southern Community Park

·        Meadowmont Park


NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Town of Chapel Hill that the Council authorizes the Manager to notify all persons who own property within 1,000 feet of the five potential sites listed in this Report.

This the 22nd day of January, 2001.