Howe Farm: Conflict Between Different User Groups Appears Exhausted

Note 3/27: Read the draft memoranda of agreement between the county and, respectively, WSU Kitsap County Extension, South Kitsap School District and Kitsap Dog Parks Inc. at the parks & rec home page.

Let’s be honest, in the past, the fate of the Howe Farm County Park has been a prickly issue, marked by conflict between some dog owners, who wanted the park to remain totally undeveloped, and those who held that the farm should be used exclusively for agriculture.

In my coverage of the park, I’ve found representatives of groups interested in cooperative use of the farm reluctant to pick at old wounds, eager to move on. These groups include South Kitsap School District, WSU Kitsap County Extension and Kitsap Dog Parks Inc., all of which have been working with the county for nearly two years to come up with a mutually agreeable multi-use plan for the park that includes an off-leash dog park (already established) and a host of agricultural pursuits (yet to be established – awaiting the blessing of the county).

On Monday night, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners gave the public one last chance to weigh in on Howe Farm. If there are ardent opponents of the plan to allow South Kitsap School District and WSU Kitsap County Extension roughly 6.5 acres (not counting hay fields) to grow gardens, raise livestock, tend orchards, sell crops and more, they either were not present or didn’t speak their mind.

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel told me some of the park’s neighbors earlier were concerned that the school district’s use of the park would amount to “development” that would destroy the pastoral ambiance of the farm. Apparently that has been resolved as nobody showed up at the meeting to complain.

Nor did anyone show up to complain about the proposed agreement under which Dog Parks Inc. and unaffiliated members will have access to and stewardship over roughly 11 acres of fenced area, including 5.5 acres of open space, the rest in woodlands. The memorandum of agreement between the county and Dog Parks Inc. encourages dog park users to join the dog lovers’ organization for a “small fee.” Dog Parks Inc. will in turn “use these funds and other monies raised for the Howe Farm off-leash dog area for improvements at the off-leash dog area” (less small administrative costs). Brian Lyman, capital projects manager for Kitsap County Parks and Recreation, believes “improvements” refers to maintaining dog watering stations and containers for disposing of dog waste.

The current draft of the agreement with Dog Parks Inc. references 14 acres of off-leash area. Presumably that includes the possibility of opening the hay fields to the east of the dog park for off-leash use in the off-season, Lyman said.

If anyone were to have complained loudly at Monday’s meeting, I would have expected it to be Scott Hall. About a month-and-a-half ago Hall, a member of the original Howe Farm stewardship committee, called me to register his opinion that the off leash dog park at the farm-turned-county-park was occupying prime land for agriculture. He felt that South Kitsap School District and WSU Kitsap County Extension were about to settle for second best. Hall said he was going to ask the county for a thorough review of how the farm was being used, stopping short of calling for the dog park to be moved off the high ground that, Hall said, would be prime space for crops.

I wrote about Hall’s concerns, and the opinions of school district and WSU officials, who weren’t necessarily thrilled with Hall’s taking up for their cause.

“We appreciate his energy as a community member and (South Kitsap Agriculture program) advisory member trying to look out for our greater good,” said Thomas Mosby, director of the district’s agriculture and natural sciences program. “However, none of those are concerns for any of the three groups we’ve been working with. We’ve determined to work around any of those concerns he’s voiced.”

I expected Hall to come out with barrels blazing at Monday’s meeting. Instead, he talked about some language in the agreement with the school district that needed “tweaking.” But otherwise he expressed acceptance of the proposed arrangement. He did say he opposed expansion of the dog park into the hay field to the east in the off season.

Tom Donnelly, who spoke at the meeting, served on the county’s Open Space and Parks Advisory Board when Howe Farm was acquired from the Bruckart family. He noted that an off-leash park had never been part of the original vision for the farm when the county applied for a grant from the state’s Wildlife and Recreation Fund to help purchase the land. Donnelly said the district’s proposed use of the park meets provisions of the grant that called for preserving the land for agricultural use.
“The South Kitsap High School Agricultural program may be the last game in town to bring a model farm to the once-thriving Howe Farm,” he said.
After the meeting, Donnelly allowed that he was resigned to seeing the park shared with dog owners … not his first choice. But due process was served.

Notably silent has been Danny Horovitz of South Kitsap Dog Parks Inc., who took the first step toward negotiating with the district on shared use of the park. Here’s an excerpt from a story from December 2006 in which the school district’s proposal first surfaced. The story references a presentation by Mosby at the Long lake Community Center.

“Tonight’s meeting may not be a peaceful one. Danny Horovitz, who has been active with the off-leash dog interests and has met with Mosby, came under fire this week in angry e-mails from at least three others upset with his endorsement of cooperating with the high school and Master Gardeners, who foresee demonstration gardens and ‘pea patch’ public gardens there. One accused him of crossing over to the other side, and another said the 83 acres should be left unchanged.
One told of watching bus loads of students who visited the park fool around, swing on the fruit trees and show no serious intent.
Horovitz replied by e-mail that they should listen to what Mosby and others have to say tonight.
Mosby said he’s seen some of the e-mails aimed at Horovitz and said, ‘That’s OK, that’s what the meeting is for, to provide them with information.’

No wonder Horvitz blasted me some months back for even raising the specter of discord between the dog folks and the ag folks in an earlier article from February, 2007.

Following the opening of the dog park, I interviewed Horovitz, noted his positive comments about the facility and asked him about a observation from senior parks maintenance supervisor Dori Leckner that a fence at the park had been pulled down. Horovitz was unhappy that I would even think of focusing on dog owners who misuse the off-use privileges at the park. He had risked a lot to make peace with the ag folks, and here I was stirring up trouble. He has not returned my phone calls and did not testify at Monday’s meeting.

Speaking of dog owners who misuse the park, I heard from three people I interviewed over the past month-and-a-half that they have observed dog owners letting their dogs run off-leash outside the fenced area. These people include Dori Leckner of the county, Arno Bergstrom of WSU Kitsap County extension and Scott Hall, who after showing me the park from the parking lot scraped a blob of dog poop off his shoe. Leckner didn’t seem overly concerned. She said folks at the park are on a “learning curve” having gotten used to using the property without constraints. She said county staff have to monitor most other county parks for the bad eggs (my term) that give responsible dog owners a bad name.

That leaves one last group unheard from: Those who testified at the meeting I covered for the aforementioned article, who said they wanted to see the park remain totally untouched.
Resident Leona Phillips said “she and others who use the park fear increased activity will disrupt wildlife and the mar the park’s tranquility.
“There are red-tailed hawks, bald eagles in the area where they’re going. This is definitely harassing the wildlife,” she said. “I’m all for these agricultural programs, just not there.”

All I can say is they didn’t appear at Monday’s meeting, although the Kitsap Sun published an article in advance.

As far as I can tell, the time to speak now or forever hold your peace is all but come and gone. April 14 is approaching fast. Anyone with any 11th hour comments should e-mail them to jangel@co.kitsap.wa.us.

2 thoughts on “Howe Farm: Conflict Between Different User Groups Appears Exhausted

  1. Chris, I know you have tried to do a good job to enlighten the public regarding this issue. However, I must point out that the coverage missed a critical point. The coverage gave the impression of a high degree of cooperation among the three parties over the basic issue of land use at the park. What wasn’t included is that, at this juncture, only SKSD and WSU have to ask for the provision of land. Dog Parks Inc. (DPI) has ALREADY been been given land, in a specific location, and had their wishes accommodated completely at public expense. SKSD and WSU had to work around that fact, so had no choice but to present the appearance of “cooperation”. DPI just had to avoid outright confrontation to KEEP what had already been granted to them, and GAIN the physical improvements that were made on their behalf. This was not a level playing field where each party had to justify their request for land, and also demonstrate cooperation with the others. Unless this is somehow brought out, and the dog park itself (not the DPI operations agreement) has to stand on its own merits, the public is not getting to weigh in. As long as Kitsap County can sell the public on the idea that the presence or absence of the dog park ITSELF was subject to public comment on the 24th, we have a problem. The county cannot set aside the land, build the infrastructure, open the dog park then say that the DPI agreement is somehow “just a draft proposal subject to modification and public input”. That’s just a ruse to say public input on the subject was allowed. A public thumbs down on continuing a dog park at Howe Farm wouldn’t harm the underlying SKSD/WSU agreements. Except, of course, it would would likely modify the location SKSD would select for their area. So, the absolute irony is….if the public were to decide the dog park is no longer a valid land use at Howe Farm…it might slow down a final land use agreement with SKSD because of that space becoming available. In this case SKSD and WSU could be punished (time wise) for the community coming to its’ senses and trying to ensure they have access to the most appropriate locations on the property. I think it’s worth exploring what would happen if a radical change to the “draft” agreements was proposed from the public. Would that proposal ever be aired for the public to see and comment on? Shouldn’t the Parks Advisory Board be reviewing the “draft” agreements and providing input as to whether they should be adopted? If anywhere, that’s where the public should get to speak their mind. The Commissioners chambers is not the appropriate venue for the public to hash out drafts of park land use agreements. The public needs the opportunity to digest what is really at stake, and what the options truly are before they can respond with appropriate comments. Why has nobody ever addressed what happens if something results in the dog park either moving location, or being discontinued at Howe Farm. That drastically alters the land use situation for others, and needs to be accounted for in the agreements.

  2. I agree with Mr. Donnelly as I was with him on the parks board when this was brought about. I do not like that the original use as a demonstration and learning farm was put aside and the Dog Park, Inc. was given hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for a large off leash facility in the heart of the Howe farm. This money and time should have been spent on making Howe farm a show piece for Kitsap County. Now we have a place to step in dog doo while we may some time in the future have the learning farm that was originally proposed. For this I blame Commissioner Angel. Options were available, but a very vocal group got what they wanted at taxpayer expense. This was and still is wrong.

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