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 email@example.com.