2014 file photo
By Rich Pollack
Pet owners, who for years have been pressing for a designated dog beach in Delray Beach, found a glimmer of hope last month when the city’s Parks and Recreation director conducted the first of at least two meetings designed to gauge community support for the idea.
During the initial meeting, Suzanne Davis explained that she and her department have spent months looking into the feasibility of a pilot project in which a portion of the city’s public beach would be designated as a recreation area for dogs.
The goal, she said, will be to present the collected information, including best practices from other cities, public comments and suggestions to city commissioners soon.
“We want to get as much information as possible,” she said. “We want to present the pros and cons that will help the commission make an informed decision.”
Davis said one idea under consideration is to designate a portion of the recreation area at the extreme north end of the city’s public beach as a dog beach. She said there is a recreation area at the south end of the public beach, near Atlantic Dunes Park, that could also be used as a dog beach.
Currently, the city does not allow dogs on any portion of the public beach.
While dog owners attending the meeting appeared optimistic, Davis cautioned that more needs to be done before the idea could be presented to the City Commission.
“This isn’t going to happen overnight and if it does, it probably is only going to be a pilot project,” she said.
As part of the fact-gathering process, the Parks and Recreation Department researched how other cities, such as Boca Raton, have successfully implemented dog beaches and conducted an online survey prior to last month’s meeting.
The survey, completed by more than 500 participants, showed overwhelming support for a dog beach, with 82 percent saying they were in favor of the idea. Those responding — as well as those attending last month’s meeting — were often split, however, on specifics such as whether the dog beach should have limited hours, whether there should be a fee and whether dogs should be required to be on leashes.
Most agreed that those using the dog beach should have to register and present proof their pets had all required vaccinations. They also agreed that rules — including requiring owners to pick up after their pets — would need to be in place.
During the meeting many residents, as well as Tony Chapital of Responsible Dog Owners Group of Delray Beach — who helped organize the gathering — suggested that a dog beach could have a positive financial impact on the city as well as on tourism-related businesses.
Chapital said many local hotels now accept pets and having a dog beach would be an added benefit to out-of-town and seasonal visitors. Others at the meeting said the city could use the fees collected at the dog beach as an additional revenue stream.
Among those attending the meeting was Andy Katz, vice president of the influential Beach Property Owners Association, who encouraged Davis to conduct additional meetings where anyone who opposes a dog beach could also be heard.
Calling the first meeting “an echo chamber” in which most of the comments were in support of a dog beach, Katz urged organizers to seek out a balance of opinions.
“We haven’t taken a position on this but we want the process to include everyone,” he said. “We have to figure out how all the users of the beach can work in cooperation with one another.”
Davis agreed that more voices need to be heard and has arranged for another meeting aimed at getting public input, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Delray Beach Community Center.