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Dog fans, athletic supporters clash

by: JONATHAN HOUSE, Alisa Garlington of Lake Oswego plays with Romeo, right, and Ali during a recent trip to the dog park at Luscher Farm. The city is currently relocating the park to make room for a soccer field, a plan that’s putting dog lovers at odds with athletes.

City hall has gone to the dogs.

At a Tuesday meeting geared to inform pet owners about plans to move the Luscher Farm dog park, about 20 dog-lovers turned out with signs pinned to their shirts, ready to do battle with soccer players over the fate of their favorite stomping ground.

For the next 2½ hours, both sides squabbled over which was most entitled to a 5.5-acre square at Luscher Farm, long planned for athletic fields but used by dog walkers in the interim.

At issue was not whether the dog park would survive. City officials, in planning for the fields, determined they would finally make the informal dog area official, relocating it to a 2.5-acre parcel to the north with plans for eventual expansion eastward.

Dog owners at the forum instead complained that the alternate site was unsuitably forested, blocking visuals for those who take dogs off leash and creating safety hazards for walkers.

The group also balked at city plans to stockpile up to 10,000 cubic yards of dirt on the dog park in the coming weeks. City officials said the dirt, taken from an Avamere construction site nearby, will save $100,000 on field construction, though Lake Oswego has yet to formally approve building plans and public hearings are still pending. Dog park supporters said the city was circumventing public process by stockpiling the dirt.

'I think the thing that's disturbing is that this athletic field has been chased out of other areas and chased into Luscher Farm and now the dog park has been established. Now that it's established, it's hard to have it taken away,' said Patty Gaile, a West Linn resident who registered the nonprofit Friends of Luscher Farm Dog Park Tuesday.

Gaile and dog park supporters gathered in the lobby of Lake Oswego City Hall before the meeting, crafting 'Stop the Dirt' placards, which many wore at the forum.

That tactic and comments made by dog park supporters inflamed sports fans at the meeting. About 10 turned out to defend a decade-long plan for a sports complex at Luscher Farm.

Those speakers and city Parks Director Kim Gilmer said a public process set the course for fields back in 1997, when citizens weighed in on the Luscher Farm Master Plan. In 2002, Lake Oswego residents also passed a bond to fund construction of two fields, which have yet to be built.

Public outcry over placing the fields in neighborhoods has partially accounted for the delay. And while sports fans - representing soccer, lacrosse, football and baseball - said they, too, would like to see a field closer to town, they've waited long enough.

'We have been working on this process since 2002 and we have been waiting patiently for development of these fields,' said Scott Thompson, president of the Lake Oswego Soccer Club.

The nonprofit club is the largest soccer club in Oregon, with more than 200 teams and 2,672 players aged six to 18. In 2001 a study of the club and other sports groups showed Lake Oswego needed at least five additional fields.

Thompson said the club has steadily worked with the city to meet a need for fields but space is limited. He asked dog park supporters to appreciate the club's efforts and their demonstrated need for space.

'I would rather have my kid getting out and playing than sitting at the TV, playing video games or hanging out on the street corner,' Thompson said.

Other sports supporters criticized the dog park group, whose membership includes residents of West Linn and Tigard, saying they didn't vote on the bond or participate in public process that called for fields at Luscher Farm.

'Yours is not an established, institutional use,' said Steve Dodds. 'I would think from a dog park perspective that having the city institutionalize and provide facilities to support this use, there's value in that.'

Gilmer said she would continue to look at other Stafford-area locations for the dog park but that the fields are not likely to be displaced.

Comments from Lake Oswego City Councilor John Turchi soothed tensions in the room as the meeting wound down.

'I do not think that the fields for our kids and dog parks are mutually exclusive,' Turchi said. 'There's no reason to fight over this. What we need to do is find a way to do both.'