By Rich Pollack
After months of study and research, the Delray Beach Parks and Recreation Department has submitted a draft report to City Manager Don Cooper, recommending a six-month pilot program for a dog beach at the city’s Atlantic Dunes Park.
While the proposal is good news for proponents of a dog beach, it has not received the approval of the city manager, who is recommending city commissioners reject the plan — in large part because it would be implemented at a time when two other beach projects would be underway.
“My big concern is we’re going to have a lot of things going on at the beach,” Cooper said, explaining that construction of portions of the beach master plan and installation of new parking meters would likely be taking place at the same time as the pilot project. “If we’re going to do it, I want to do it correctly.”
The final decision will rest with city commissioners, who are expected to discuss the plan during a May workshop.
The proposed pilot project would restrict the dog beach to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only with two hours in the morning — from 7 to 9 a.m. — and three hours in the afternoon ending at sunset.
Under the proposal, the dog park would be supervised by a park ranger, and users would be required to show proof that dogs have a current license and have received all required shots.
Although the future of the proposal is still up in the air, the plan is drawing praise from dog beach advocates.
“This is going to end up being a win-win proposition for the city and for dog owners,” said Bob Brewer, who leads the Friends of Delray Dog Beach, a group that has been working with the city on the proposal.
In making the recommendation to go forward with a dog beach pilot project, Parks and Recreation Director Suzanne Fisher pointed out that supervised dog beaches have been successful in other cities throughout South Florida.
“This program would increase our services provided to city residents and visitors alike,” she wrote. “Similar programs have been done in local municipalities, including Boca Raton, and have been shown to be successful.”
Under the proposal, Delray Beach residents would be able to obtain an annual permit for $30 per dog. That cost, however, would jump to $165 a year for nonresidents, the same fee Boca Raton charges for nonresidents. A $10 per dog visitor weekend pass would also be available.
While Brewer is pleased overall with the proposal, he thinks the recommended annual fee for nonresidents could be adjusted.
“I think it’s excessive,” he said.
In the proposal, the parks and recreation department staff estimates that revenues to the city could exceed $50,000 annually, while expenses — including the hiring of a part-time park ranger — could be as low as about $25,000.
In his memo to commissioners recommending against approval, Cooper said he believes the staffing needs and the costs associated with them are underestimated.
Under the proposal, a 100- to 300-yard portion of Atlantic Dunes Park — just north of Linton Boulevard — would be reserved for dogs. The pets would be required to be leashed until they reached the dog park and then could be off leash within the boundaries.
Fisher said the area would be marked off by temporary fencing that could easily be installed and taken down twice a day by the park ranger. The ranger would also be responsible for making sure owners pick up after their pets, she said, and would be charged with removing anything left behind.
Advantages to the site, according to the report, include two nearby metered parking lots, restrooms and a single entry point where a ranger could check for permits.
Parks and recreation department staff wrote that after the six-month pilot program is concluded, several criteria could be used to determine whether to extend or end the project. Among those would be the amount of usage, how well the program was received by the public and whether there were compliance issues.
The evaluation would also explore whether or not the dog park helped reduce the number of people bringing dogs to other parts of the municipal beach, which is prohibited.
Cooper said he is concerned that some members of the public will believe that the beach is open to dogs all the time and that additional resources would be needed to enforce the ordinance.
“Right now we still have people bringing their dogs to the beach,” said City Commissioner Mitch Katz, a proponent of creating a regulated and supervised dog beach. “Having a dog beach is one way to regulate that and to keep dogs in a section by themselves. This may be the only way to stop people from bringing their dogs to other parts of the beach.”
Should commissioners give the proposal a green light, Cooper said it would be several months before it could be implemented.
“I expect there will be significant pressure to proceed with the pilot program and because of the costs, procedures necessary to implement and the required personnel, the pilot program would not be ready until Oct. 1, if the commission directed such a program,” he wrote.