A map of Willard Avenue Neighborhood Park, with the proposed dog park outlined in tan along Willard Avenue. Credit: Montgomery County Parks Department

About three months after plans were scrapped for a dog park in downtown Bethesda, the project has resurfaced, this time at a different park about a mile away.

During a virtual community meeting Wednesday night, staff with the Montgomery County Parks Department outlined a proposal for a 13,500-square-foot dog park at Willard Avenue Neighborhood Park.

The dog park, which would be located on the northern edge of the park, along Willard Avenue, would be separated into large and small dog areas, and include seating areas inside and outside of the park, water fountains and trash cans, according to Rachel Newhouse, project coordinator with the Montgomery County Parks Department. The large dog area would be 9,300 square feet and the small dog area would be 4,200 square feet.

Darren Flusche, division chief for park planning and stewardship, said plans are “very preliminary” and more detailed designs are expected later in the planning process.
That would include how tall the fencing would be, and the type of surface, seating and equipment that would be installed.

The Parks Department was originally planning to build the dog park at Norwood Local Park, also in Bethesda. But, in March, as local government leaders finalized the county’s construction budget, County Executive Marc Elrich directed the department to find a new location due to community members’ complaints.

The people who advocated against the park largely objected to its location within Norwood. It would have taken space that is a large open area.

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In an interview in March, Parks Director Mike Riley said he “wasn’t persuaded” by the argument that “we were taking away something that’s irreplaceable” because there are several other open lawn areas. But, still, he said the Parks Department would try to find an alternate location, per Elrich’s request.

Other complaints during the hearing last year included:

• Noise from barking dogs
• Smell of dog waste
• Some of the open space in the park is unusable due to the terrain, and the dog park area is one of the areas that is usable
• Cost
• Replacing natural grass with artificial turf or other materials for the floor of the park
• Proximity to the toddler park
• Not enough parking space.

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Some of the same concerns were raised during Wednesday’s meeting, including about noise, the potential impact on nearby home values, smell and inadequate parking.

There are 13 parking spaces at the park, project leaders said, but they expect most people who would use the dog park would walk to it rather than drive. Newhouse also noted that dogs that bark excessively will not be allowed and the park hours would generally be from dawn until dusk. Flusche said the Parks Department is developing a plan to ensure the dog park stays clean.

Other commenters said the dog park would be a good addition and serve the needs of many community members (and their four-legged friends) who don’t have yards. Some also said it would help foster community building and neighborhood relationships.

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A Norwood dog park was first proposed as the result of a countywide study, completed in June 2019, aiming to increase the number of play areas for dogs. The study recommended 13 locations for new parks, including at Willard Avenue Local Park.

People can submit feedback about the proposed Willard Avenue dog park until Sept. 30. If the project moves forward, construction is expected to begin in fiscal 2024, according to the Parks Department website.

The county currently has 11 dog parks — seven owned and operated by the county and four run by municipalities.

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If the Willard Avenue dog park project moves forward, which project leaders said “is not a done deal,” the Parks Department would also consider other updates, Newhouse said. The Parks Department has recently purchased two houses on the park property, on the corner of Willard Avenue and River Road. The two houses could be demolished to “open up the visibility into the park” and build a new pedestrian walkway into the park. The Parks Department is also considering expanding the park’s basketball court from a half court to a full court, Newhouse said.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com