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Off-leash parks vex Mt. Tabor residents

Amid complaints, City Council OKs new rules for dogs

While some dog owners must travel miles to their closest off-leash area, Joann Martorano can simply open her door and step outside.

She just has to watch where she steps.

'There are dog bombs on my driveway; there are people dropping them in my trash,' she says, referring to the dog waste that litters the Southeast Harrison Street boundary of the Mount Tabor Park off-leash area. 'We have to leave our shoes outside the door.'

The mess isn't the only thing Martorano doesn't appreciate about living next to the city's second-largest and most controversial off-leash area. She and a cluster of other neighbors within barking distance think the signs are unclear; they hate the noise; they fear that the trails are being eroded; and they can't stand that some dogs aren't on leash when they should be.

Many would rather keep their own dogs and children in their back yard for fear of more aggressive dogs. And they're confounded as to why the Portland City Council on Dec. 22 voted unanimously to extend the 5-acre Mount Tabor site by 100 feet to the east, closer to their homes and a children's play area.

'People down here are not able to walk into the park anymore,' said Mary Mowrey, who has lived near the park for 42 years. 'We've had absolutely no enforcement of the boundaries or scoop laws ever. To propose to add to their territory when they're not obeying the law anyhow É it's just insane.'

Criticism of the off-leash area at Mount Tabor and other sites likely will continue even in the midst of new council-approved changes. The recommendations Ñ products of a yearlong study by a 15-member citizen advisory committee Ñ include more flexible hours at individual parks, a formal 'code of conduct' to be posted at each site, clearer signs and continued public education and enforcement.

The new program is set to begin June 15, after the parks bureau reports back to the City Council with details on funding, signs, boundary markers and enforcement.

Last year's trial program Ñ in which the city offered 27 off-leash sites with set hours and six year-round fenced sites Ñ was heavily scrutinized, with complaints over enforcement, hours, locations and boundaries.

Many see the new plan as a step in the right direction.

'I keep seeing fewer problems with dogs, and everyone I've talked to in Southwest Portland seems to agree Ñ both people with dogs and without dogs,' said Lee Buhler, who represented Southwest Portland on the citizens committee. 'I think gradually, things are starting to work. É Of course you're always going to get some people complaining, but I see a lot of people happy with the way things are going.'

Portland Parks & Recreation officials say Mount Tabor has posed the biggest challenge in siting an off-leash area because of its high use, natural resource value and regional popularity.

'The solution proposed at Mount Tabor is not an ideal solution,' said Gay Greger, who oversees community relations for the parks bureau. 'I think everybody knows that. We're working very hard to find an alternative solution.'

One alternative site, Greger said, could be the parks bureau's operations headquarters at Southeast 63rd Avenue and Division Street, adjacent to Mount Tabor, when the parks facilities are moved from there within a couple of years.

In the meantime, the parks bureau will begin scheduling meetings for neighbors at Mount Tabor to work toward a 'good neighbor agreement'Ñ a nonbinding contract that the city uses to resolve livability issues such as noise and traffic. It's the only such good neighbor agreement recommended in the plan.

There also are plans to consolidate and fence the play equipment on the south side of the site. But the thought of fencing in children to let dogs play disturbs many neighbors, including Elizabeth Gross, a dog owner and mother of two young children who lives three houses down from the off-leash site.

'We don't go up there anymore just because of the messes and the dogs,' she said. 'I think it's a waste of the taxpayers' money. We haven't had these before. Why all of a sudden do we need them now? People have been walking their dogs for ages and ages. Why all of a sudden do we have to submit our parks (to off-leash areas)? The parks are for everybody, they're not just for the dogs.'

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