Council discusses potential dog park locations, concerns


Daily file photo by Ciara McCarthy

Evanston’s fenced-off dog beach closed in 2016 due to rises in Lake Michigan water levels. Though Skokie Park District’s Pooch Park is a shared facility with Evanston, community members have emphasized the need for a more accessible park.

Jorja Siemons, Assistant City Editor

Councilmembers and residents discussed concerns and benefits for a proposed Evanston dog park during Monday’s City Council meeting. 

After Lake Michigan’s rising waters submerged Evanston’s fenced-off dog beach in 2016, some community members have pushed for a new, dedicated space for dogs. Evanston residents have access to the 2.7 acre Pooch Park, jointly run by Evanston and Skokie Park District. but City Engineer Lara Biggs said many residents find its location inaccessible. 

“People would like a centrally located dog park that is easy to walk, easy to bike to, in a different location than the existing park,” Biggs said.

As city staff identified potential park locations, they avoided sites located within one mile of Pooch Park to broaden resident access, Biggs said. 

Biggs said city staff have narrowed potential locations down to three preferred sites: Clark Square Park, Lovelace Park and Ingraham Park. The sites were chosen based on a variety of criteria, including parking availability and size, having at least 0.5 acres for dogs to roam. 

Results from the city staff’s survey — which received over 1,800 responses — showed Clark Square having 49% community support, Lovelace Park having 37% support and Ingraham Park having 35% support, Biggs reported. However, neighbors of prospective locations have expressed concerns about living next to a dog park. 

Biggs said this is the result of a variety of community concerns about noise, odor, limited parking and pet waste. For potential sites located within the Lakeshore Historic District, she said residents are worried a dog park would disrupt the surrounding character. 

3rd Ward resident Rachel Hayman spoke out against negative neighborhood reactions, calling on the council to view the dog park as an “equity issue.”

“The objections stated by neighbors really came down to a privileged not-in-my-front-yard attitude,” Hayman said. “Property owners along the lake do not own the lakefront… A well designed dog park with attractive fencing will not ‘spoil the lakefront.’” 

Sari Kadison-Shapiro, a longtime 4th Ward resident, said Evanston does not need another dog beach considering city access to Pooch Park. In particular, Kadison-Shapiro said Clark Square Beach is an inappropriate spot for a dog park because of its proximity to the lake. 

“I would never go there because my dog would want to go swimming so badly he would jump over the rocks into the water if he could,” Kadison-Shapiro said.

Beyond geographical location, to operate an off-leash dog area, the city must meet multiple legal requirements, including a complete fenced-in area separate from external park activities, Biggs said. 

Clark Square Beach could meet these requirements given its available space. 

But Ald. Melissa A. Wynne (3rd) said ward residents she spoke with were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea because it already serves a variety of community functions. 

“That park is one of the few open spaces along the lakefront,” Ald. Wynne said, citing numerous activities hosted at the park including tai chi and yoga classes.  

Addressing Wynne’s concern for the dog park’s needed space, Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said the park could continue to accommodate community events while also having dedicated space for dog owners. 

“It seems the park could be gated off as you described for the dog park and still have some green space,” Ald. Fleming said, addressing Biggs. “I can understand why people would like to leave it open and have other uses for it. However, everyone can’t afford to live near the beach… We have to think about using lakefront space for everybody.”

Councilmembers also discussed possibly pursuing Lincoln Street Beach, but Biggs said implementing a dog park there could present “logistic barriers” given the ongoing dispute between Northwestern and the city over ownership. According to her, the beach is actually owned by the state of Illinois, not the University or the city. 

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) suggested negotiating with NU regarding how to share the space. According to her, this could look like allowing dogs during the beach’s off-season, such as in parts of spring or fall. 

Though development plans remain uncertain, community responses and councilmember ideas indicate some support for the dog park’s creation. 

During public comment, Hayman emphasized the importance of dedicating space to dog socialization to keep communities safe.

“They require space to run and play with other dogs. If they’re deprived of this, they can develop antisocial aggressive behaviors,” Hayman said. “Evanston dogs and their owners deserve better.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons 

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