2017-12-22 / Front Page

Cape to take up dogs at Fort

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – Town leaders have talked about changing the way off-leash dogs are managed by Fort Williams Park by keeping them off the athletic field and expanding the off-leash but a clarification is needed before the change can occur.

The proposed change to Chapter 7, the ordinance that deals with dogs, as it stands now would prohibit dogs on the multipurpose field from April 1 to Nov. 1.

This, however, needs clarification because, as councilor and ordinance committee member Caitlin Jordan said at last week’s council meeting, the intention was to prohibit off-leash dogs, not dogs in general. The council is expected to take the issue up again Jan. 8.

Chapter 7 of the town’s code of ordinances states dogs must be kept on leash “within the boundaries of a groomed and/ or regularly maintained municipal property including, but not limited to Fort Williams Park, public roads, municipal sidewalks and athletic fields.” Furthermore, the handler of these dogs must collect any feces dropped and dispose of it “where it will not likely be encountered by any persons.”

Those provisions don’t apply to Cape Elizabeth Poor Farm, Lions’ Field (aside from the Little League field) and the unleashed dog area of Fort Williams Park, which includes much of the space between the Battery Blair parking lot, the back of the former officer quarters along Humphreys Road and Merriman Road and, if the changes take place, will also include a green space between Merriman Road and the path along the shoreline

Mark Russell, chairman of the Fort Williams Park Committee, a group that has been looking into updating the ordinance for months, said the proposal is a compromise.

“There were clearly people on the committee who wanted no access to the field for dogs, on-leash or off-leash. There were others on the committee who said this is a piece of property that the town has allowed this sort of use and if we take it away we’re going to have to find some other place for dogs to play,” he told town councilors at the public hearing on the topic Dec. 11.

The two residents who spoke at the hearing were generally happy with the proposed language, but were concerned about enforcement.

Heidi Hansen, a resident of Fowler Road who brings her dogs to Fort Williams twice a day, said most of the people she knows who bring their off-leash dogs to the park are supportive of the proposal.

“It’s been thoughtfully done and most people agree with it,” she said.

Roger Rioux of Bridlepath Lane said he likes the park having a place where dogs can go run around and socialize, but held firm that dogs should not be off leash on the athletic field anytime of year.

His concern was about enforcement on the town’s part.

“Rules made without enforcement are useless. There are dogs all over the park off leash,” he said, adding bags of feces can routinely be found underneath benches, picnic tables and trees.

Russell said he goes to the park everyday and regularly sees what Rioux mentioned.

“I can’t remember being in the park when I didn’t see a dog off leash in an area where it shouldn’t have been off leash,” he said. “It happens every day and it’s something the town as a whole needs to get its hands around.”

Finding dog waste where it shouldn’t be is something Councilor Sara Lennon knows too well. She said when she was a youth sports coach, the Fort Williams field would be covered in feces, putting youth in danger of stepping in it.

Councilor Valerie Randall said Rioux’s enforcement concern is valid and warrants further discussion and exploration.

Cape Elizabeth Police Captain Brent Sinclair said enforcement concerns are something the department is well aware of. Cape Elizabeth’s part-time animal control officer, who, like other police, spends “quite a bit of time in Fort Williams, handles such complaints.”

“Patrol officers spend a lot of time at Fort Williams. If we see a dog off leash, it gets addressed. It doesn’t mean there is a citation issued, but it get addressed,” Sinclair said.

Chairman Jessica Sullivan with complaints and other issues that have popped up over time about unleashed dogs, is it time to give citations.

Sinclair said during the last five years, there have been 55 calls for service regarding dogs, three related to bites and three rapid dogs. The other calls, he noted, were not specified.

Public Works Director Bob Malley said to help residents and visitors understand the new rules when they get implemented, new maps and signs will be put up in the park.

“We’ll clearly need some more signage, depending where people enter the park,” Malley said.

While how the councilors come down on the issue will be decided next month, several voiced concerns with dogs in the park. Councilor Penny Jordan said she doesn’t think “dogs should be allowed in that field at all.”

“I agree,” Sullivan said. “They shouldn’t be there at all, any time of year. I think it is a huge safety issue for children.”

Russell said off-leash dogs are not just an issue at Fort Williams.

“It’s not just Fort Williams. This is a particular recommendation the Fort Williams Committee is making, but it an issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said recently there have been “a couple of off-leash aggressive dog instances” at Gullcrest, a place where dogs are required to remain on leash. Public works will post signs “to remind people of this shortly.”

Aside from talking about dogs at Fort Williams, the council, last week, also made a series of changes to the food vending program that the Fort Williams Park Committee recommended to revitalize the program, which runs April 1 to the end of November on four sites in the park. As part of the change, the square footage limitations for vending sites south of the lighthouse and by Ship Cove will be reduced from 90 square feet to 50 square feet, while the minimum bids will be reduced to $2,000. The size limitations for the site north of the lighthouse (where Gorgeous Gelato operated) and Channel Outlook (the site of Bite into Maine) will remain the same, but the minimum bid will be increased from $4,000 to $4,500 to include the $400 electricity charge vendors are charged on top of the site fee.

Russell said the changes are aimed at expanding the type of vendors and reducing the price to entice bids. The aesthetics and enjoyment of the park was also looked at in terms of whether larger food trucks should be allowed in the park.

“We are willing, but we want to be careful with what we allow in the park through the vendors,” he said.

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