By Jane Smith
Should dogs be allowed on the beach at Oceanfront Park?
In early December, Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant suggested residents answer that question in an online survey. Then, city leaders would learn whether their residents want to push forward with creating a stretch of beach for dogs.
Grant, a dog owner, is in favor of creating a dog beach with limited hours and that uses a permit system to ensure the dogs are current on their shots. He suggests that Boynton Beach residents pay less than nonresidents.
But creating the dog beach means working with Ocean Ridge.
While Boynton Beach owns the beach, it is in the town of Ocean Ridge and subject to its ordinances. Right now, Ocean Ridge does not allow animals, including dogs on leashes, on the public beach. Owners of private beaches can allow dogs on their beaches.
Palm Beach County bans dogs from all of its beaches. Ocean Ridge Hammock Park, directly north of Oceanfront Park, is owned by the county.
Commissioner Joe Casello first raised the idea of the dog beach back in August.
Then, in November, Boynton Beach staffers met with their counterparts in Ocean Ridge to discuss the idea of allowing dogs at Oceanfront Park.
“It seemed clear from discussions with [Ocean Ridge] representatives that the town is firm on enforcing its regulations,” according to a Boynton Beach staff memo. Boynton Beach city staff recommended against pursuing the dog beach location.
Even so, Casello insisted that Boynton Beach staff move forward with the dog beach plan.
“It’s our beach,” said Vice Mayor Justin Katz. “We own it, we maintain it.” He favors a trial period for the dog beach.
Four residents spoke at the Dec. 5 meeting. They all were against it.
“Even a park ranger will not be able to find the little turds,” longtime Boynton Beach resident Manny Gutierrez said.
Casello also wondered why the Ocean Ridge town manager did not come to the Boynton Beach City Commission meeting to address the town’s concerns.
Jamie Titcomb was invited, but did not plan to attend “a personal opinion session,” said Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins, the town’s designated spokesman for issues regarding Oceanfront Park. His department patrols the beachfront park through an agreement with Boynton Beach.
“We need to see a concrete proposal, other than saying, ‘we want to have dogs on the beach,’ ” Hutchins said. At that point Ocean Ridge would have a workshop to discuss the proposal, he said.
Mayor Grant asked that his city’s parks and recreation advisory board create and post the dog beach survey on the city’s website, look at what other cities are doing when they allow dogs on their beaches and come back with options for the commission to select.
Because the advisory board meets monthly, the City Commission might not see the survey results for a few months, Grant said.
Wally Majors, parks and recreation director, said a dog beach would be limited by the size of the city’s slice of oceanfront — 960 feet.
“It’s a small area,” he said at the Dec. 5 commission meeting. “We would have to hire a park ranger to enforce the limits and then someone to clean up after the dogs.”
He agreed that the permit money could be used to offset the cost of the park ranger and that most dog owners would pick up after their dogs.
Commissioner Christina Romelus wanted to let the public decide about creating a dog beach at Oceanfront Park. But Commissioner Mack McCray was against creating a dog beach because of the increased cost. The city does not have park rangers and would have to hire them, he said.