Some people cried. Others shook their fists in anger or worried aloud about mob rule and potential retaliation.
But in the end, the Coon Rapids City Council voted unanimously to shut down a neighborhood dog park that was both praised and demonized by those in attendance.
Trackside Dog Park will close permanently on Sept. 15. Dog owners can instead use a newly opened dog park 5 miles away, at Bunker Hills Regional Park. The new dog park is a joint venture between Anoka County and the cities of Coon Rapids and Andover.
Before the vote, neighbors and users of Trackside filled the council chambers and filed up to the podium one at a time to share their stories.
“The park has destroyed my pursuit of happiness for seven years,” neighbor Mike Carter said. “Restore the peace and safety of this neighborhood and close Trackside Dog Park immediately.”
Supporters of the dog park gave equally impassioned pleas. Luke Slivinski said his dog, Daisy, gets as excited as a child on Christmas morning at the mention of Trackside.
“It’s a wonderful place to make new friends and socialize with old ones, human and canine alike,” Slivinski said.
Trackside opened on Hummingbird Street seven years ago, after the city converted a stormwater pond into a dog park. City residents wanted a dog park, and City Council members thought it would be a good use of space. Mayor Tim Howe said at the time he thought perhaps a half a dozen dog owners would use it a day.
Instead, it became a regional draw, with dog owners from Coon Rapids and surrounding cities driving into the neighborhood from sunup until after dark.
“Did we create a monster? In my opinion, we did. But in our defense, it wasn’t our intent,” Howe said. “We will never do a dog park as long as I am around connected to a neighborhood again.”
A majority of residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the dog park, saying it’s helped build a sense of community and created friendships. At one point, about 200 residents signed a petition in support of the dog park, supporters said.
But two homeowners who live next to it said it’s been a ruinous addition to the neighborhood. They cited nonstop traffic at peak hours, noisy barking, lots of poop, dog fights and some people fights that have required police intervention.
Carter called neighbors who spoke in support of the dog park “ the mob that insists on destroying the peace of my neighborhood.”
Neighbor Thomas Narog said the stink, the flies, the noise and the fights — human and dog alike — have made the dog park intolerable.
“This is a public nuisance. I’ve put up with it seven years and I’ve had enough,” he said.
The feud between the two sides was palpable at times, as the mayor politely implored speakers to avoid accusations and personal attacks.
Dog owners said that the new dog park isn’t up to snuff. There are burs, uneven terrain and the Anoka County Sheriff’s firing range is within earshot of the park. Many said the sound of gunfire means they cannot use the new park.
Before the vote, each council member addressed the crowd, saying while they appreciated supporters’ sentiments, closing the park was the right thing to do because the negative effect on the immediate neighbors was just too great.
“This is our fault. We didn’t anticipate the popularity of it,” said Howe, who vowed to make sure the new dog park was improved to better serve users.
“The dog park you love isn’t the piece of property; it’s the people,” said Council Member Steve Wells.
As the retired police chief, he said he knew firsthand about the police calls to the parks for fighting and intimidation.
“Would I want this next to my house? Absolutely not,” Wells said.
Council Member Denise Klint implored the neighbors to rebuild relations and not let hard feelings linger.
“We have to move on, and we can’t hold this against each other,” she said. “We have to make the neighborhood a great neighborhood.”