Great Neck goes mutts over dog parks

Great Neck goes mutts over dog parks
On Thursday night, Jason Marra, the superintendent of the Great Neck Parks District, appeared before the audience. Nearly 100 people showed up in person for the gathering. (Photo by Steven Keehner)

The dog days of summer arrived early when heated disagreements over a dog park pilot program erupted at a Great Neck Park District meeting.

On Thursday night at the Great Neck House, the session was supposed to provide residents a chance to voice their opinion.

Instead, roughly 100 attendees turned it into a nearly three-hour battle. The meeting featured several altercations, threats of legal action and the removal of individuals.

There is currently one dog park in Great Neck on Colonial Road. The pilot program would see the development of two new parks in Allenwood Park and Village Green.

“We’re here to connect, create and celebrate. That’s our vision statement,” Superintendent Jason Marra said. “These ideas came about from a positive place. I know some people have concerns about that and their concerns may be very valid.”

He said that the pilot program process started in July 2021 and will run through this November.

The board mentioned they did not intend for the meeting to be a Q&A, but a place where remarks may be made for future consideration. However, they noted the new FAQ section on their website.

“I’m sure you’re aware now there are dual petitions online for both supporting and not supporting [the dog parks]. Again, we don’t want to force something that the community doesn’t want,” said Marra. “That’s why we’re here tonight and that’s what we will continue to hear you. We want to make the right decisions that will benefit everybody.”

Yet, his pleas for the audience to show consideration for one another went ignored. Despite several warnings, crowd interruptions occurred often.

“I understand that you guys have been trying to do what you thought was best. People here are fighting for what they believe in. But the absolute disrespect that’s been shown to each other in this room is just plain shocking,” said one resident. “And I’ve never been so happy that I left my seven-year-old at home because watching adults act the way they have acted tonight is just hard.”

The event saw those for and against the new parks. Others supported a new park but wanted more public inclusion. Susan Lopatkin, mayor of Kensington, shared her dissatisfaction.

“There wasn’t an attempt to engage the greater community and particularly the neighbors as well as residents of Kensington, located literally a stone’s throw from the proposed dog park,” she said. “It wasn’t until a resident of my village sent me a petition, concerned about the dog park that I even knew about it.”

According to the website, the criteria used to find prospective places included looking for open spaces that would have the least negative effects on park visitors and other recreational activities.

The parties in favor of and against dog parks engaged in most of the fighting. The location of Allenwood Park, in particular, was a significant source of tension.

Claudia Grunberger, a nearby homeowner, pleaded with the board. She asked them to consider the impact a dog park would have on her and her neighbors’ quality of life.

“We have already had a taste of what’s to come,” she said. “The partial construction has already begun to attract many people, bringing new and more disturbing levels of noise and safety concerns.”

She described the online abuse that opponents of the park had to endure and pleaded with the board to condone it.

Other concerns included decreasing home values, dog owners not tidying up after their pets and children’s safety. Several speakers threatened to take legal action.

“We urge the parks district to seize the construction of the dog park at Allenwood Park immediately,” said Zimin Wang. “Otherwise, we will take all possible legal actions at any cost until this is removed.”

But as the meeting went on, more individuals stood up in favor of the park. They rejected others’ objections and received loud praise.

“Please don’t give in to the weird criticisms we’re getting. If you set this precedent of people stopping park projects for no reason and there really haven’t been any valid reasons, it’s just going to make things worse,” said Brian Greben.

Other pro-park speakers rejected more specific criticisms, like those about noise, as trivial.

“I don’t think this has to be a vile, horrible thing. I don’t think it’s bringing down anybody’s property taxes,” said Mindy Bornemann. “If I can live with snow blowers, leaf blowers and North Shore Farms, I can live with a couple of barks.”

The parks’ usage, visitor comments and monitoring of area effects will gauge its success, according to the park department’s website. They will set a direct email address up for user feedback and will administer an online survey.

On July 14, the board will hold another hearing at 8 p.m. at the Great Neck House.

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