A group of Winnipeggers does not want a city park going to the dogs.
A community effort has emerged to push back against an aggressive lobbying campaign by a city-wide coalition of dog owners who want the city to create more off-leash dog parks.
The battle is being waged over Voyageur Park, a 4.3-hectare neighbourhood green space in the middle of Crestview, near the western edge of the city.
"This is an ideal park for families, and I have a dog," Cindi Eastman said as she watched her three-year-old son, Jesse, play with children from a nearby daycare in the middle of Voyageur Park. "It's got trees and a hill, kids toboggan in the winter, we have picnics here. We walk our dogs here. This space is beautiful."
"After dinner and before bedtime, the park is busy with parents and their children," said Dan Legge, as he pushed his daughter on the park swings. "Off-leash parks are a good idea -- just not here."
'Off-leash parks are a good idea -- just not here'
Area Coun. Grant Nordman is campaigning to convert the park to an off-leash site.
Nordman said the St. Charles ward probably has about 6,000 dogs but no off-leash park. Even though Nordman doesn't have a dog, he said he's frequently asked when the ward will get an off-leash park, and he said Voyageur Park would make an ideal location. He said it's underused and the nearby Voyageur School has a large playing field with three playground structures, so Voyageur isn't needed as a children's park.
"I know this is a not-in-my-backyard issue," Nordman said, acknowledging the neighbours closest to the park are overwhelmingly opposed to the off-leash proposal.
Donna Henry, spokeswoman for the dog-owners' coalition, said Voyageur Park fits the model of neighbourhood off-leash parks the group wants city hall to replicate across Winnipeg.
"It's absolutely ideal and the perfect size," Henry said, adding few children use the park now and it's better suited as an off-leash park.
Nordman has said repeatedly -- at public meetings, in media interviews and in discussions with residents -- the city will sell the park for a housing development if it's not turned into an off-leash park. But he admits he's not aware of any developer who has inquired about the property and the city has no plans to declare it surplus and put it up for sale.
'I know this is a not-in-my-backyard issue'
"That's the proposition I put forth," Nordman said, adding the park must be set aside for dogs or the residents will see 24 to 26 homes built there.
Voyageur Park was busy Thursday morning. There were about 50 small children from the Crestview Day Nursery busy chasing balls, repeatedly rolling down the hill and chasing each other in circles. Legge and Eastman were with their young children, and retirees Craig Boan and John Bazarkewich were taking a late-morning stroll.
"We have no idea where the off-leash park proposal came from," Boan said. "Nordman didn't ask anyone who lives around here if they wanted it turned into an off-leash park, and no one does.
"Now Nordman is threatening to sell the park and build houses here if we don't agree with his plans."
Nordman organized a public meeting on the issue a week ago and said three-quarters of those attending opposed an off-leash park.
"You could tell (Nordman) had his mind made up about this, and it didn't matter what we had to say," said Carla Treger, a supervisor from the daycare. "He was listening to us, but not hearing what we had to say."
'He was listening to us but not hearing what we had to say'
Nordman said the area residents are opposed for a variety of reasons, including traffic, loss of a green space and the effect on property values, but added he's convinced "once they have it, they will like it."
Legge said neighbours who want to let their dogs run can take them to the off-leash park at Little Mountain Park, just a few minutes' drive north of Voyageur Park, or other nearby off-leash areas.
"We shouldn't have to be forced to put our kids in the car and drive to a park where they can play, while dog owners from around the city drive here to let their dogs run in our park," Legge said.
The city's public works committee will consider the off-leash plan at its meeting Tuesday. An administrative report from the public works department doesn't support the off-leash proposal, saying it would rob the neighbourhood of a city-managed playground, there is limited on-street parking that will be further compromised if dog owners drive to the site, and there has been no request from the area to convert the park into a dogs-only park.
The report states the principal from adjacent Voyageur School opposes the plan, concerned about the safety threat to schoolchildren.
Nordman proposes to build a gravel parking lot for 18 cars and erect a $50,000 fence around the site, but the civic administration said that will not address safety issues.
"The risk presented for children to come into contact with off-leash dogs as they arrive at or leave the park remains high, due to the same park entry points through the park used by children attending Voyageur School," the report states.