Town council found comfort in knowing before any off-leash dog park is developed in an existing neighbourhood there would be the opportunity for feedback from nearby residents. Council would also have the final say.

A 14-point criteria was approved by town council last week that drastically limits where off-leash parks can be located in existing neighbourhoods. All 14 points of the criteria must be met before an area would enter the next step of consultation with nearby residents.

As of now, only an identified Sunset neighbourhood site would meet the criteria and be eligible to advance to the point of garnering feedback from nearby residents. Four others examined elsewhere in the community did not qualify.

Potential off-leash dog park area identified in Sunset neighbourhood just north of the St. Timothy's High School.Even if a community group made application to have the Sunset location developed, there's currently no money set aside for one in the parks department's three-year budget. Establishing an off-leash park is estimated to cost between $100,000 and $300,000, depending upon the size of the park.

Committee chair Tara McFadden praised the committee and parks department for dealing with what is a sensitive issue for some.

"I think you can see the criteria put in place does balance off the different values of the community both by allowing for potential sites but also mitigating distances, accessibility and preserving of environmentally sensitive land," she said. "I think the group did a really good job of providing a criteria that balances off all those different value systems and I do appreciate the work they did."

Skeptical of establishing the off-leash parks in existing neighbourhoods, Councillor Morgan Nagel said he can get behind the criteria because a location would come back to council before proceeding. If there a major objection to a park it can be struck down. 

Councilor Patrick Wilson says he has received numerous emails on the topic and is satisfied the steps put in place would appropriately the concerns he has heard, particularly in terms of residents having a voice.

"We can put on the brakes if we need to," says Wilson.

All of the following criteria must be met:

1. Off-leash areas should have clear and discernible boundaries;

2. Off-leash areas should not interfere with wildlife corridors or environmentally sensitive areas;

3. Off-leash area boundaries should be setback with a landscape buffer and fencing, where appropriate, from residential property lines, a minimum distance of 5m from residential properties is required for buffering purposes;

4. Off-leash areas to have a minimum of two access points with double gates where fenced;

5. Waste receptacles to be located at each entrance to off-leash areas;

6. Boundary and applicable bylaw signage to be clearly posted;

7. Area should be a minimum of 0.5 acres in size;

8. School properties and sports field areas should not be considered as off-leash spaces;

9. Off-leash areas should be well connected to the regional pathway system to reduce vehicle dependency;

10. Off-leash areas not to straddle or intersect regional pathways;

11. Where adjacent to a major roadway the area to be fenced;

12. Off-leash parking should be integrated as a part of the design where feasible;

13. Off-leash parks will not be established on a temporary basis; and

14. Community feedback will be collected and considered where potential off-leash areas have the ability to impact nearby residents.

More off-leash parks are expected to be complete as new neighbourhoods are developed, including parks in Sunset Stage 3, Fireside, Southbow Landing and Heritage Hills.

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