ALBANY -- The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to settle the long-standing dispute over allowing dogs in Memorial Park. At least for the time being.
The council voted 5-0 to ban dogs from the baseball field -- the area known as Section A -- and allow them during set hours in the area known as Section B, which is separated by a fence installed after the park was renovated a couple of years ago.
The council will revisit the issue after next summer. With the grass fields currently closed for the winter so the grass can regenerate, the trial period will effectively be six months. A limit of two dogs per person was also approved.
A list of "good neighbor" rules will be posted. Councilman Robert Lieber proposed mirroring the rules at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline in Richmond and the council approved his motion.
"This is not a simple issue but I think we can find resolution and I think people can work together," Lieber said after an hour of public comment that included dog owners asking for access and neighbors complaining about the noise and deterioration caused by dogs at the park.
The debate, of course, also touched on indelicate matters.
"Poo -- it isn't much but there's enough," Lieber said. "The big problem isn't the poo, it's the urine of the dogs that you can't mitigate, you can't pick up and it destroys the grass. When I voted to put in this fence, one of my main motivators was that now we can have an area that is pristine for the kids."
Dogs will be allowed in the park daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. There was discussion about having variable hours but it was decided that such a plan would just lead to confusion.
In addition to the two dog per person limit, other rules include:
Several people who spoke before the council seemed satisfied with the decision.
"I am happy with the compromise," said Lesli Zephyr, a dog owner who was part of a citizen's working group that met several times to try to reach a consensus. "I think it's a win-win for both the neighbors and the people who take their dogs to Memorial Park. I felt middle ground was achieved in this situation and we will not go off the fiscal cliff."
Jeff Shipley of the Albany High School baseball boosters and the Albany Little League works to keep the baseball field in top condition and said he was happy as well.
"It was important to us (to keep dogs off the playing field)," Shipley said. "If we could somehow talk dogs into staying off the infield, we were OK with them in the outfield. There's just no way for it to happen. Having them off the (baseball field) is important."
But neighbor Stephen Vernon was not happy.
"There's little hope that that kind of use by that many dogs in such a small area. The decision today will not mitigate the destruction," he said. "It's interesting to me that they say that Section A will be free of dogs so that people can use it and they turn around and say Section B is going to be a small area with dozens of dogs in it and it can still be multiuse."