By its projected opening in early spring, the new improved Verrazano Dog Park at 66th and Boulevard East will no longer be the nose-sore of West New York, with a plan by the city to remedy the drainage problem and incorporate input from resident dog owners.
The dog park is used by West New York residents as well as dog owners in surrounding towns, such as Union City, Weehawken, North Bergen, and Guttenberg. Each of those towns is also home to at least one public dog park of their own, with the exception of Guttenberg.
Mayor Sal Vega and the West New York Board of Commissioners unveiled the long-awaited proposal Tuesday night, but stressed that amenities and regulations within the park would be decided upon by residents.
“My goal is to turn this over to you,” Mayor Vega said.
In April, a group of concerned dog owners and residents collected approximately 175 signatures, calling for Mayor Vega to make changes to the park on 66th Street and Boulevard East.
Due to its construction atop an old tennis court, the dog park retains water and dog urine, prompting health concerns regarding fleas and bacteria, and exudes an overwhelming stench.
“We’re setting up the canvas. It’s going to be blank, and then we’re going to fill it up.” – Town Engineer Joe Cunha
Town Engineer Joe Cunha, in a presentation outlining the town’s proposal, also emphasized insufficient surfacing and poor drainage conditions as the most pressing issues.
According to Town Administrator Joseph McConnell, West New York has allocated $85,000 for the dog park from the “couple hundred thousand dollars” in federal funding that the town receives each year.
Mayor Vega stressed that, in very difficult financial times, he believes the budget, cleared in September, is reasonable. “The hardest part about this project was finding the money. Now we have the money,” Vega said.
One of the most expensive, but essential, components of the project, a water line, is projected to cost as much as $25,000. The water line will bring water in from the main on Boulevard East to the dog run.
Although Cunha stated that “the budget’s so tight, it’s either going to be all grass and no amenities, or some amenities and no grass,” both he and McConnell remain optimistic that the next step, the bidding process, might enable additional items for the park.
“We can’t guarantee luxury items…but we’ll see when bids come in,” Cunha said.
McConnell agreed. “A lot can change with the bidding process…we may be able to get a good deal.”
Cunha outlined the technical aspects of the park that will immediately go to bid to start the process. The existing surface will be dug up, the fence and curb will come out, the park area will increase from 4,000 square feet to about 7,200 square feet, surrounded by a new fence, and nothing on the interior will remain.
Cunha next outlined the surfacing options to remedy the drainage problem – the “biggest challenge,” according to Vega.
The new surface will be comprised of three layers, using a lot of stone and very little soil. The bottom layer will be existing sub soils, the middle layer will be four inches of clean crushed blue stone and marble mix, and the top layer, the surface stone, will be decided upon by attendees who received a questionnaire to fill out at the beginning of the meeting.
Cunha said the clean crushed blue stone is the industry standard for drainage and that the clean crushed marble tends to deactivate the uric acid and pneumonia in urine.
He showed a video of a scale model to demonstrate typical drainage in action.
One woman raised a concern that, when picking up dog feces, the top layer would slowly be eliminated.
Cunha, however, was not concerned. “Even if you scoop up a handful and a hundred people a day scoop up a handful, it’d take a hundred years to get an inch off that thing. It’s negligible.”
Room for amenities
In his introduction, Vega announced that amenities would also factor into the $85,000 budget.
According to Vega, “historically, a dog park was just a fence around a lot. Eighteen years ago and today are two different eras. We understand now what residents want and need.”
Vega also noted that residents from surrounding times use the park and that “[dog runs] really bring a community together. At the dog run, you get to meet neighbors; you get to know each other.”
Cunha sees the budget as a chance to better the dog park experience for both dogs and their owners. “We’re setting up the canvas. It’s going to be blank, and then we’re going to fill it up,” Cunha said.
Cunha and town residents at the meeting agreed that amenities should be reserved for the perimeter, with the inside area preserved for dogs to run.
Proposed amenities included various dog exercise components, such as hound hoops and weave poles, as well as two water fountains with hose attachments, park benches, and a custom rules sign, all of which will be decided upon by the dog owners’ input.
The issue of park maintenance was also raised, with Vega committing a morning cleaning of the park by the Park Department, but leaving general maintenance to responsible dog owners.
Throughout the night, residents raised additional concerns about the park.
Dr. Count Wiley recalled a recent attack in town and called for more of a police presence and enforcement at the dog run.
A woman in the audience questioned visibility in the area. She noted that by the time that many residents find time to bring their dogs to the park, it is late and dark, and stated that she would feel safer with lighting improvements and a police presence.
Overall, however, attendees seemed optimistic about the proposal.
“I think [the proposal] is well thought out…They seem to have done their homework here,” West New York resident Patrick Cullen said.
Residents Jay and Anna Rojas agreed. “[The meeting] was very informative, very detailed, very realistic.”
The town, Vega said, will review the distributed questionnaires and continue to rely upon public input in the planning process for the improved dog park.
“If we get this first one right, then we can use that model for others in the future,” Vega said.