Zoom on the dog park

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Investigation of the “Moore Property”, Davis Hill Road and Lords Highway

February 16, 2022 | by Ted Craft

A proposal to build a dog park in Weston is back almost four years after the project was approved by voters, which appeared to settle the matter, but did not.

The proposal passed in 2018 was to build a three-acre fenced dog park inside 36 acres known as the Moore Property, which the city purchased in 2003 and set aside for possible future use.

The Conservation Commission approved the plan shortly after the vote, but the city voluntarily postponed proceedings until the legal challenges had run their course. It took more than two and a half years, partly prolonged by the pandemic. The city prevailed at all levels, at the cost of more than $52,000 in attorney fees.

Currently, the Board of Selectmen, with a new design and cost estimates in hand, must decide whether to move the project forward.

A sense of advice

Only first coach Samantha Nestor is clearly in favor of the park. Selectman Martin Mohabeer’s position appears to be a developing story. Coach Amy Jenner is clearly against it.

With the new design, Council will first have to decide whether to refer the project back to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Conservation Commission. In the six years since it was first proposed, the two bodies have reviewed the project several times, including at sometimes rancorous public hearings.

Council will also have to decide if and how to fund the City’s portion of the costs, which consist primarily of the work required to construct an access driveway and drainage system at the park site.

Funds to build the park itself come from private contributions to Weston Dog Park Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established in 2016.

It would be the first time a selection committee had voted the proposal up or down. Previous councils referred the project to P&Z and Conservation and scheduled public voting, but neither acted to formally approve it or allocate funds.

A new diet

Once an appeals court’s final decision in November 2020 put an end to further litigation – at least regarding the 2018 preservation decision – the designs for the dog park as first proposed Times have come up with city cost estimates of around $550,000, more than three times the amount projected in 2018.

A new design shrinks the park and brings the city’s construction costs down to 2018 levels, just under $176,000 for site clearing, grading, materials and storm drain structures.

The new design…

  • Reduced the size of the dog park from 3.6 acres to 2.8 acres.
  • Reduced the length of the driveway by almost two-thirds, from about 1,285 feet to about 450. This is accomplished in part by using an existing wooden road as a walking path to enter the park.
  • Reduced the number of parking spaces from 39 to 20.
  • Halves the size of a drainage retention system, the result of less impervious soil in a smaller parking area and shorter driveway.
  • Includes an all-native planting plan and identifies the location of benches, signs and waste bag dispensers.

The costs assumed by Weston Dog Park Inc. amount to $92,980, not counting the $7,200 that the organization has already given to the City for the technical drawings. WDP leader Maria Proto told the Selectmen the organization had $110,000 in the bank and any excess would be donated to the city to cover future maintenance expenses.

where they stand

First Breeder Nestor said, “I am dedicated to building the Moore Estate dog park and honoring the vote of the people of the town. It is time to move the process forward. I am extremely grateful for the public-private partnership with Weston Dog Park Inc. and their efforts to fund over $100,000 for park design and engineering.

Selectman Mohabeer said the will of voters should be respected, but he did not believe the 2018 vote was binding, that the project should go ahead, but that the city should come up with a “plan B”.

The “B” may refer to Bisceglie Park, an idea initially considered but ultimately rejected.

Selectwoman Jenner opposes a dog park on the Moore property but appears to favor a location in Bisceglie. Of the 2018 vote, she said, “it wasn’t a vote, it was a non-binding referendum.” She said the vote was close enough to warrant a reconsideration, and that a lot has changed in the years that have passed, including a new conservation and development plan (POCD) and a master plan for the center- city.

Years passed because of litigation. The new POCD actually counts the “Dog Park (planned)” on the Moore property as one of the city’s recreational assets, and the downtown plan does not extend to Bisceglie Park.

Bisceglie’s proximity to the town center may have its appeal, but as far as we know no detailed assessment has ever been made of whether a sizeable dog park could be located there. It is unclear whether public opinion would favor closing the pond, altering the playing field, or reducing the number of ball diamonds to make way for a dog park.

Wetlands are also a problem in Bisceglie. Concerns about the impact of a dog park on wetlands on the Moore property were the focus of Conservation Commission deliberations in 2018 and have been the subject of subsequent litigation. The Commission concluded that there would be no impact, the court ruled that the Commission had exercised due diligence and that the evidence supported its decision.

Additionally, the public voted for a dog park specifically on the Moore property.

The vote

The 2018 public vote was not a referendum. It was a special town meeting, by definition a legislative event. It was scheduled by the Selectmen after enough citizens signed an official petition requiring them to do so.

The confusion over the term “referendum” is likely because city officials erred in first structuring the vote as a referendum so that mail-in ballots could be used to maximize public participation. This turned out to be illegal and the vote on the scheduled date had to be canceled anyway when severe weather intervened.

The discussion portion of the well-structured special town meeting took place on March 22, 2018 with its own rancor moments. Voting by machine ballot took place from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on April 4.

As these things happen, turnout has been huge, at least ten times the size of a typical special town meeting and nearly five times the number of votes in the annual referendums that decide a city’s budgets. worth tens of millions and determine tax rates.

1,686 votes were cast. The majority, 52.7%, voted yes. 47.3% answered no. Because the net difference was 88 votes, some seem to consider the margin too close to be decisive, despite the percentages, despite the majority.

Was it binding?

The question posed to voters began with “Shall the City of Weston establish an enclosed dog park of approximately 3½ acres on the 36 acre parcel owned by the City…”. (The full text is in note 1 at the end of this article.)

In the world of legislative language, that first word, “shall,” is a command. Not a request, not a suggestion.

So yes, the vote was binding.

And no, it wasn’t.

The ballot question did not direct the City to fund the project. It couldn’t.

The municipal charter allows citizens at a special municipal meeting to do many things, but not to appropriate funds, nor to oblige elected officials or the finance council to do so. As a result, and as we reported in 2018, citizens were only voting on the dog park as a concept.

Remarks

1. The Complete Ballot Question: “Shall the City of Weston establish an enclosed dog park of approximately 3 ½ acres on the 36 acre parcel owned by the City on Davis Hill Road as shown on a visualization map and in accordance with a draft memorandum of understanding? [Memorandum of Understanding] between the city and Weston Dog Park, Inc., both of which are available on the city’s website and at the city clerk’s office? »

2. Until relatively recently, the word “shall” in legislation was always considered an absolute decree. In recent years, courts have sometimes ruled that if the statement is imprecisely written and creates what is called a “false imperative”, it can be interpreted to mean “may”. As a result, many federal agencies are revising thousands of regulations to replace the word “shall” with “shall” to remove any ambiguity. Not counting the absent and impermissible fundraising mandate, the wording of the dog park ballot question does not have this flaw.

Related stories:

November 23, 2020: The Court of Appeal refuses to review the dog park’s decision

August 27, 2020: Court dismisses dog park appeal

January 16, 2019: Dog Park clears another hurdle

November 30, 2018: Donation to the dog park

April 2, 2018: The Dog Park: Questions & Answers

March 13, 2018: Special municipal meeting of the dog park

January 31, 2018: The city will vote on the dog park

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