On Voting No: A “Top 10” List for Your Consideration.
Dear Fellow Weston Residents:
Below you will find vital information to consider when voting today - including projected cost and future tax burden, environmental impact, the process to date, and the lack of transparency leading up to today's vote:
1) Vote No today or you may lose your chance to object later:
If today's "referendum" were to pass, and the WDP proposal is approved by the Conservation, Police, and Finance boards and commissions (approvals that ought to have been sought prior to the vote so you could hear from relevant commissions before voting), all future direct input is out of your hands. You will not have a direct say in the finalization of the Memorandum of Understanding (which is still in draft form), and even more critically - you will not have a direct say in the budget. You will have to hope the Board of Finance is able to exercise discretion and fiscal responsibility on your behalf while under tremendous pressure. Projected costs can be expected to rise again as more challenges are encountered - including those based on the inherent unsuitability of the Moore property.
2) Costs: $240,000 and rising.
Where does that number come from? From our Town engineer but finding this information is difficult, to say the least. For some reason it is not placed on the Town's home page next to all the other relevant information posted with respect to today's vote. If you want this information, we have quoted it for you so you don't have to search for it:
“Weston Dog Park Inc., a nonprofit organization in favor of the dog park, has pledged to raise funds and pay for the parking lot, turnaround area, fencing, and signage, which is estimated to cost approximately $84,760, with a 20% contingency built in to those prices.
“The town of Weston would pay for the road into the dog park, estimated at $155,928, with a 20% contingency built in.”
Further, the current projection for maintaining what would be the largest stand-alone enclosed dog park in the area is preposterously low. The Town's most recent stated "estimate" was increased from $500 per year to $1000 per year. Even after randomly doubling their first guess, that figure would not even begin to cover the additional staff hours needed to keep the park clean and safe.
3) Does the Vote determine only whether the Moore Property is Suitable?:
The word “suitability” does not appear in the WDP petition, the online legal notice or on the ballot. However, the word “ESTABLISH” does.
Still… How can we decide whether a dog park should be established on the Moore property OR whether the Moore property is a suitable location without cost projections relating to the construction and maintenance of it as compared to cost projections on the other properties which were summarily rejected? Surely cost projections at Moore and any other location would inform any decision, even preliminary.
4) Costs to Date:
Weston Town employees have been working on this project since 2016 alongside the WDP proponents but we have no data on costs or the percentage of their time spent on this proposal. The Town and its representatives have already spent quite a bit on exploring this property and advocating for this idea - all while spending more on defending their lack of transparency - without a similar and apples-to-apples focus on other parcels of land that many believe would be far more suitable even with inherent challenges.
5) Size matters:
Weston - a small town with a population of a little more than 10,000 is on the verge of placing a 3.6 acre park in the middle of a secluded woodland in a quiet part of town off a local road used only by those that live in the area. Well-planned, successful dog parks are placed in or adjoining existing parks thereby taking advantage of established infrastructure such as parking, lighting, and security and ease of access off main roads.
Here's some more comparative data:
Westport: 26,000 people :: 2 acre dog park
Ridgefield: 24,638 people :: 1.5 acre dog park
Hamden: 60,960 people :: 1.1 acre dog park
Greenwich: 61,171 people :: 0.75 acre dog park
New Haven: 129,779 people :: 0.25 acre dog park
Weston: 10,000 people :: PROPOSED 3.5 ACRES
6) Access to the Moore property:
We don't recall hearing residents complain about access to the Moore property before a dog park was proposed there. Are we to believe that they all wanted to walk and hike at Moore (rather than Devil's Den and the myriad of ALT trails) before a dog park was proposed? Those opposed to the placement of a dog park on Moore are called "selfish" because either we live near this beautiful land, or have taken the time to enjoy it, as opposed to other sites. But Moore was never just for those who lived nearby or sought it out, but for everyone. If most residents chose to take advantage of other, more centrally located properties, is just that, their choice.
Dogs are allowed off leash on Moore today, and were allowed off leash 2 years ago and will be allowed off leash 2 years from now, without constructing a parking lot, driveway or removing one single tree.
Anyone who has taken the time to visit this area already knows this:
You can currently access Moore through the Elizabeth Luce Moore/ALT entryway off Hill Farm Road, and you can park there. In fact, you can park 22 cars there easily, today. Those that claim otherwise have not visited this neighborhood and are just plain wrong.
Our Town is full of ALT trails without parking lots smack dab in the middle of them. Parking is limited for most. There are several entrances to ALT land off Davis Hill, Pepperbush and Valley Forge where only a couple of cars can park either along the road, or in a small dirt turnaround. The Moore property is actually already far more accessible than that.
7) Moore's Cost:
Over and over we hear how much the Town spent on this land and how we all continue to pay down the note until 2022. Dog park advocates state the only way to recoup that money is for everyone to use the land by spending even more money on constructing a dog park, 22-to-44 car parking lot and 1280-foot driveway -- as well as even more money on ongoing operations and maintenance well beyond 2022.
Spending this money will not bring money into town, or reduce the debt service, and in fact will cost all residents more in tax dollars.
But conserving the land would reduce the debt service and bring money into town that could be used to support critical needs and programs - and/or improve/enhance current parks and amenities and even the exploration of a dog park at an appropriate location. Once residents from neighboring towns - or as one proponent envisions: even residents from as far away as Westchester - come here to use our new dog park, they will not be spending their money here. The only thing they will leave in Weston is dog poop, for our P&R department to pick up on our dime.
8) Alternate Location:
ISN’T THERE SOMEWHERE ELSE WE COULD PUT A DOG PARK? The short answer is, of course.
The current thinking about dog park site selection is placing them on land that may not be otherwise used. Like a landfill. Google it - many places are doing it. And there are accompanying grants that would offset project costs.
In Weston, it's not that a dog park couldn't be placed at our transfer station, it is that to do so would be complicated. Complicated in part because the town's records are so poor no one can find out exactly how the landfill was capped. So, in part because someone was incompetent or negligent and it would be hard to do, we will turn instead to the Moore Property and destroy forever a 7+ acre tract of near pristine recovered woodlands.
Since there was no site selection criteria developed and employed, and no professional planner used, we do not have real answers about why and who rejected other parcels.
An after-the-fact document the Town calls a spreadsheet was developed to attempt to show logic and process that did not prospectively exist. From the Town of Weston website, here is an excerpt from one of the reviews done of an alternative site. It is the backing info for the entry on the Town's spreadsheet.
On The “S/F” property (an 80-acre parcel):
“If I remember correctly the Town would have to do all Improvements to the Private Road, Drainage, Widen, Black Top! That would cost who knows maybe $100,000!”
– EMail from Mark Harper to Tracy Kulikowski, April 24, 2017
So… the cost to construct a very long driveway at an alternate site was the reason the Animal Control Officer deemed that property unusable for a dog park; environmental issues was another reason, closeness to overhead wires, ball fields and school grounds, were others.
Further, in regards to S/F, the Animal Control Officer's decision was based on improvements to a private road in a residential neighborhood -- Upper Parish Drive... but the better access would be off of Georgetown Road (57), a main road - that was not even considered... only the harder, private access road was - which makes no sense.
Meanwhile, after our studies revealed the Town had overlooked wetlands at the proposed Davis Hill driveway site at the Moore Property, the Town relocated the driveway -- and its length has more than DOUBLED, as has the cost.
Wouldn't it make sense to look again at other sites, especially considering what the Town is projected to spend on this one?
9) The Scoop on Poop:
The EPA estimates that just 2-3 days’ worth waste from only 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay and all watershed areas to swimming or shell fishing within 20 miles. Both the EPA and CDC classify dog waste as a contaminant. Dog poop is distinct in this categorization - different from deer, squirrel and fox feces, say, partially because of the difference in diets.
The Westport-Weston Health District (WWHD) says the feces will not contaminate the site as long as there is 100% compliance with picking up after dogs. 100% compliance is an unattainable standard, even on a flat open and smaller dog park. Given the terrain at the proposed park at Moore, the task will be made impossible by the immense size, terrain (trees and grass and shrubbery) and the distraction of the owners. With respect to dog urine, WWHD looked only at one component -- nitrogen. It excluded any analysis of other components, including Phosphorus and pH as well as the fact that dog urine is a disease vector from pet to pet, pet to wildlife and pet to humans. In November of last year a member of those opposed to the dog park on Moore submitted scholarly studies on dog urine to the WWHD and requested a review -- and never heard back. Meanwhile, the Town lists the two memos provided by the WWHD as "approvals.' They are no such thing. Neither document uses the word approval (or any form of the word) and the second document mentions that the rules must be adhered to, setting an impossible standard on which to base any inferred endorsement. Both WWHD memos are from April 2017, approx 6 months before the newer proposal with a new entrance location, longer driveway and expanded parking lot was even developed. A new WWHD report should have been requested and generated evaluating the whole project. Further, the WDP has acknowledged publicly that there is a already existing problem with dog poop pick-up across all Weston trails and parks.
Notably, the Town of New Canaan's Parks & Rec Department recently and unanimously approved a “Shame” campaign for people who leave poop behind or fail to toss bags full of poop into trash.
10) Watershed and Protecting Pristine Water:
The environmental assessment from the Saugatuck River Watershed Association is highlighted below -- by using a petition to leapfrog over the conservation hearing, proponents of the dog park ensured that you would not have information that would be presented there before your vote. Further, our Selectmen voted in favor of adjourning a special town meeting such that this information could not be shared, televised or recorded - despite a motion to allow this representative to speak, based on Weston's participation in this Association. See below:
"I have walked the site and have to agree that it is not a good one from an environmental standpoint due to the presence of a pristine to near pristine water source emanating from an area just below the proposed dog walk park site.
Due to the contour of the surface of the land and projection of bedrock just above the wetlands-but below the dog walk park site, any surface contaminants, urine feces and motor oil from automobiles etc... will re surface in the wetland and contaminate the spring. This site is rare in our area in having no development above it. The drumlin hilltop consists of very fine clay soils that absorbs any rain water that falls on the Moore Property, then releases it very slowly throughout the year- feeding the spring.
The watercourse flows down steep bedrock slopes almost immediately after leaving the Moore Property and enters the Saugatuck River into the area called Devils Glen Park. There seems little to no area between the Moore Property and the Saugatuck River to absorb the excess of nutrient running off this potentially highly concentrated area of surface pollution. The amount of effluent pollution being deposited on the property, if the area was being used for homes, would have a septic system to handle the waste based on the amount of bedrooms.
There is no septic system described in the plans for the dog park to absorb and handle the pollutants. There has been no study to determine if the land has the capacity to handle these pollutants even if it were drained off to a septic system. There is also abundant wildlife on the property-most likely because of the quality surface water available for them.
The proposed road into the property also will lead to the felling of a large number of valuable trees. i hate to use the words "cherry picking" but the road almost seems to follow the line that would best remove the valuable timber-not preserve the property best. The Black Cherries, Prunus serotina, growing here are among the best specimens that I have seen in Fairfield County and might make more valuable seed stock. The cherries fruits are also a highly valuable food source for wildlife, as are the white oaks that seem to have fallen in the proposed roads path.
There really is no reason to cut a road deep into the property to create parking. The area at the property entrance could be easily widened right at the roadside preserving the area as a wildlife sanctuary.
This property links ,through a small area of open space that goes down to the Saugatuck River,the Moore Property to the property of Trout Brook Valley, making it a valuable wildlife corridor.
I hope Weston residents will vote this down. I love animals-but this just is too valuable of a site!"
Above, we have endeavored to “copy and paste” together this compilation of diligent and careful analyses and research by stakeholders who - while opposed to the dog park at the Moore property - have contributed more to improve the project by pointing out its flaws than those in favor of it. Not all of these people live close to the Moore property - but all of these people are your neighbors. Some are dog owners. Some are not. Some are conservationists, environmentalists, biologists - and others are concerned by the lack of process, the exposure to financial risk. Together, all have dedicated a great deal of time and energy towards a positive outcome for Weston and their fellow residents - and Weston’s future residents.
Today please consider voting NO. Remember that “No doesn’t mean never”. No just means this is not the right time, not the right place and not the right approach.
Your NO vote is actually a very positive choice to make. Sure, it’s a vote against an ill-considered proposal. At the same time, your NO vote is a vote for fiscal responsibility, for environmental stewardship, and for preserving the pristine and peaceful character of a unique small town.
Finally, your NO vote is a clear message to the Town to deeply reconsider how they pursue their agenda and any new proposals in future: With diligence, planning, foresight, care, common sense and a commitment to ethical and inclusive processes.