Edmonton considers handing the leash to communities to create off-leash parks

The city is looking at handing the leash over to local community groups to establish new off-leash dog parks in Edmonton.
A new city report is looking at ways to fund off-leash dog parks after administration found a limited amount of money for the areas. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The city is considering handing the leash over to local community groups to establish new off-leash dog parks in Edmonton.

A new report, prepared by city administration, considers getting community groups to fundraise for new off-leash parks, similar to the way playgrounds are built in Edmonton. City staff would help the community plan the project and council would match funds through existing programs. 

In new neighbourhoods, according to the report, the city could work closer with developers to create off-leash spaces. 

The report comes after councillors were told in April that there wasn't enough money to fully fund the city's 10-year plan for off-leash dog parks. At the time, administration pledged to "look for creative approaches" to make ends meet.  

"We have to be honest with ourselves, we have limited resources," councillor Andrew Knack told CBC News on Saturday. 

"If we can use that existing fund to help fill that gap and then in other communities, where we don't yet have all the park space built, rely on the developers to fill that gap, I think we can make a lot more progress."

Coun. Andrew Knack says the new funding recommendations could insulate off-leash dog parks from the uncertainty of budget deliberations. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Most of the city's 42 off-leash parks have been created on an ad hoc basis since the 1990s in response to public requests. 

The lack of planning has created a number of issues, according to the report that will go before councillors on Wednesday, from conflicts with shared use paths and a lack of dedicated funding for bylaw enforcement. 

The city approved a city-wide strategy for off-leash parks in 2016, in an effort to bring consistent design and amenities to spaces around the city, while also setting out a 10-year plan for new and upgraded parks. 

Summerside residents, in south Edmonton, say they've been asking for an off-leash park for over a decade. 

Summerside is among the 10 neighbourhoods with the worst access to off-leash parks, according to a map released by the city. The closest park is about a 15 minute drive. 

"It's kind of a major undertaking, especially if you want to go there after work. You have to load your dogs up and by the time you drive there, drive back, it doesn't leave you a lot of time," said Gail Harwood, as she walked her dogs Saturday afternoon. 

A map of Edmonton reflecting the different levels of access to off-leash dog parks by neighbourhood. Green areas have good access, while red areas have poor access. (City of Edmonton)

While Coun. Knack said the new funding recommendations could insulate off-leash dog park approvals from the uncertainty of budget deliberations, some residents are concerned by the prospect of drawing money from existing programs. 

The report suggests one option could be tying money for off-leash dog parks to the Neighbourhood Park Development Program (NPDP). Under the program, a community is eligible for $15,000 for basic projects every five years, $75,000 every 10 years for intermediate projects and $250,000 every 15 years for extensive projects. 

Michelle Gosselin, former president of the Summerside community league, said she's worried it could mean communities are choosing between playgrounds and dog parks.

"If we're having to create priorities over what's being built every 15 years, it gets to be really difficult and off-leash areas aren't going to be built," said Gosselin, who is also the district representative for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. 

Gail Harwood and Michelle Gosselin walking Harwood's dogs in Summerside, a community that ranks among the worst in Edmonton for access to off-leash parks. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

City estimates have put the cost of eight new community-level off-leash parks at $3.2 million, or $400,000 per park. 

But Knack said dog parks don't need to be "extravagant". By designing simpler off-leash spaces on existing parks, he said communities could access smaller grant options under the program that don't conflict with more expensive playground funding. 

"You could take a pocket park sized space and just make sure you have good fencing, the necessary garbage cans and amenities you would want outfitted in a dog park," he said. 

Knack also pointed to the city's pilot program that allows community leagues to turn outdoor rinks into off-leash spaces in the summer. 

The latest report will go before councillors on the community and public services committee on Wednesday. 


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