Dogs have their day: Off-leash ordinance passes in Newton

View Newton's Off-Leash Future in a larger map

A map showing the 24 sites approved for evaluation as potential future off-leash areas. Cold Spring Park, Newton's only current off-leash area, is in yellow. Claflin and McGrath parks, which have already had public hearings, are in green.

By Sarah Thomas
Globe Correspondent / August 10, 2010

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NEWTON —Despite being the dog days of August, a nearly packed house at Newton City Hall heard aldermen vote Monday to allow more off-leash areas in the city's parks.

The ordinance will put decisions on future dog areas under the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, who will have the power to designate areas after public hearings, and also decide whether a location requires fencing. So far, Parks and Recreation and the city's Off-Leash Area Working Group have identified 24 locations that they think could make good off-leash areas down the road.

The aldermen also voted for an amendment allowing the city to explore using land owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation for off-leash areas.

"Normally, I'm an impatient person, but I think the time we've taken on this issue has allowed us to craft a very comprehensive, specific, and thoughtful ordinance," said Alderman Ruthanne Fuller. "We have very specific rules for dog owners and very specific criteria for parks."

Some aldermen had expressed concerns at their July meeting that few people would be in town for Monday night’s vote.

Under the new rules, the number of dogs in off-leash areas will be limited to three dogs per visitor, and visitors will be required to clean up after their dogs. The locations for potential future parks were selected on a variety of criteria, including compliance with disability laws, conservation impact, parking, and distribution throughout the city. Rules at the parks will be enforced by Newton Animal Control.

Six aldermen voted against the ordinance, citing reasons such as difficulty with enforcement and the lack of a fencing requirement in all off-leash areas.

"The mix of people and dogs creates health and safety concerns that aren't going to go away," said Alderman Lenny Gentile. "I would have liked more restrictions on hours and locations for parks as well."

"For me, the lack of a fencing requirement is holding up my support," said Alderman Amy Sangiolo.

Cold Spring Park, the city's only current off-leash area, has no fencing, and off-leash area supporters say the park has remained clean and well-maintained. The area was designated as part of a pilot program for officials to test the viability of more off-leash areas throughout the city. The pilot program was set to expire on Sept. 30. Further development of the sites at Claflin and McGrath was tabled prior to the vote.

Parks and Recreation has also recommended Norumbega Park as a candidate for off-leash use. A public hearing has not been scheduled.

"It's been a slow process, but we've made the right decision," said Alderman John Freedman.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at