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Parkersburg City Council debates dog park site

Parkersburg resident Susannah Lowden speaks during Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council public forum about the possibility of establishing a dog park in the 1200 block of Avery Street, given the objections raised to the planned site at City Park. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Mayor Tom Joyce said he will not stop construction of a dog park in City Park without action from Parkersburg City Council.

The city has already committed $38,000 to the project, which has drawn opposition from neighbors who said they were unaware of the plan until stakes were placed in the ground next to the park’s tennis courts last month.

The location of the dog park was on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting as a discussion item only. More than 50 people attended the meeting, a number of whom were apparently there because of their interest in the subject.

Ken Watts, who lives near the tennis courts, said he understands there may not have been any legal requirement for residents to be officially notified about the plan, but they should have been.

“I know we’re late to the party coming into this, but it doesn’t feel like we got an invitation,” he said.

Boy Scout Jackson Simmons addresses concerns about the dog park effort he’s working on for his Eagle Scout project during Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Watts said he’s been to multiple dog parks, but they were not in residential areas and had more space than the one proposed off Quick Street at the park.

“That’s a residential area, folks,” he said. “A fence, screening, is not going to take away the sights they see, the scents that they smell and the sounds that they’ll hear.”

Watts said his opposition to the project was in no way meant to reflect negatively on Jackson Simmons, the Boy Scout who proposed the dog park for his Eagle Scout project.

“He is to be commended for his civic-minded efforts,” he said.

Simmons also spoke during the public forum, trying to address some of the concerns that have been raised. He said owners won’t be allowed to leave their dogs unsupervised in the park area and noted there are already a number of dogs in City Park, walking with their owners.

Parkersburg City Councilman J.R. Carpenter, left, answers a question from Councilman Mike Reynolds during discussion of the proposed dog park at City Park at Tuesday’s council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“There will also be bags provided so they can pick up the waste and trash cans so they can throw the waste away,” he said.

Simmons said some people have indicated they thought the presence of the park would lower their property values. He thinks it will make the park and the area around it more attractive.

“I still believe the City Park is a jewel of Parkersburg and the dog park will only make that jewel shine brighter,” he said.

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl said she was unaware that the location had been pitched for a dog park in 2015 but then-Mayor Jimmy Colombo looked for another site after residents expressed opposition. She said only two members of council were in office at that time and she would have expected them to bring the previous situation up when it was being discussed.

“I feel that our (Boy) Scout, and I apologize, was done a major injustice,” Kuhl said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce discusses the proposed dog park at City Park during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

One of those members, Councilman J.R. Carpenter, said there was no discussion of the location. He pointed out that Simmons announced his intentions during a council public forum last year and council voted to appropriate money for it, but he did not realize where it was to be built when he was part of that 8-0 vote.

“I missed that. I would have never voted for it,” Carpenter said.

He asked City Attorney Blaine Myers if council’s only power was to appropriate the funds. Myers said generally the administration would determine how the funds were spent unless council placed restrictions on the funding.

Joyce said it was very clear in the minutes from the July 2021 meeting that the dog park was intended to go next to the tennis courts.

“Council approved this location when they approved the budget revision,” Joyce said. “I’m not going to put a stop to this without some kind of official council action. … Don’t throw this on me because this has suddenly become an unpopular item.”

Parkersburg City Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl, right, speaks during the discussion of the location of a dog park at City Park during Tuesday’s council meeting, as Councilwoman Jesse Cottrille listens. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Carpenter asked Simmons if he still wanted to proceed with the project. Councilman Mike Reynolds, the other council member who was in office in 2015 and with whom Simmons and his father said they discussed the project along with Joyce, said that was not appropriate.

“He’s been thrown in the middle of this,” Reynolds said. “This is not the time or place.”

Carpenter said he had publicly rescinded or reconsidered his vote for the funding from September 2021.

After the meeting, Myers said he did not think council could rescind its vote “because contracts have already been signed, and we’re not able to undo the effects of the resolution.”

Answering a question from Kuhl, Finance Director Eric Jiles said the city has committed $38,000 to the project. Most of that money — $26,290 — is for fencing, which Joyce previously said could be used elsewhere in the city if the project did not go forward.

Ron Tice, with the Monday night men’s tennis league, speaks in opposition for plans to build a dog park near the tennis courts at City Park during Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

In other business, council approved the final reading of an ordinance enacting a $200-a-quarter business and occupation tax exemption for all filers. The vote was 6-0, with Councilmen Bob Mercer and Chris Rexroad absent and Carpenter abstaining because his business is subject to the tax.

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