2021 | Development

Downtown Bethesda to get new dog park

Proposal opposed by neighbors worried about safety, noise, parking

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A map of Norwood Local Park, and the location of the new dog park.

via Montgomery County Planning Board

A new dog park — downtown Bethesda’s first — is coming to Norwood Local Park.

The 18,000-square-foot park — about a half-acre — will sit at the center of Norwood Local Park, in an area of the park that is currently empty, open space.

It will have separate areas for large and small dogs, according to project plans. The section of the park for large dogs will be about 13,000 square feet, while the section for small dogs will be about 5,000 square feet.

The entire park will be encircled by a roughly 6-foot-tall fence. It will have seating, shade and a water source.

“Bethesda is an area that has so many people living there, that not having a dog park, in my view, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” said Planning Board Member Natali Fani-González. “If I have the power to approve at least one, then I’m gonna use it.”

Planners estimate the project would cost about $500,000, but funds are available in the existing capital improvement plan. A timeline for completion was not given.

Planners said it is the first dog park in Bethesda, “but not the last.”
The hope, they said, is to add dog parks at Elm Street Park and North Chevy Chase Park.

“To meet all the needs in Bethesda, we really do need to be looking at multiple facilities,” said Park Planning and Stewardship Chief Jai Cole.

The park was not approved without significant pushback from many neighbors who expressed a variety of concerns, ranging from expected noise from barking dogs to safety of children who play at the nearby toddler playground.

In total, 921 people responded to a survey conducted by the Parks Department about the dog park proposal. Of those, 502 (55%) said they opposed the park and 414 (45%) supported it. About half said they would not use the park. Half of the 921 people who responded said they live within one half-mile of the park.

During Thursday’s Planning Board meeting — before members unanimously voted to approve the proposal — more than 30 people testified, many in opposition. Among the complaints and concerns addressed during public testimony:

• 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
• The importance of preserving open space in an urban area
• Proximity to the toddler park
• Not enough parking space

Reed Dewey, who lives near the park, played a video for Planning Board members showing people using the open space where the dog park will be. It also showed the overflowing parking lot with park police officers writing tickets for cars parked outside dedicated spaces.

“This is ultimately about values. We value preserving one of the last pieces of open spaces — do we do that?” Dewey asked. “Or do we value providing a large dog park for a small amount of people that will affect the experience for everyone using the park?”

Parks Department staff members said parking improvements are not part of the dog park project, but the county is pursuing a separate project at the nearby recreation building that would include parking accommodations. The department expects to add about 15 spaces.

The location was chosen because there are no other dog parks within walking distance of downtown Bethesda, according to planners, and it is near many townhomes, apartments and condominiums that do not have yards.

Planners also argued that the park will only take about a half-acre of the 8 acres of available open space in the park. They also said there are 130 feet between the dog park and the closest residences, and it is 50 feet from the toddler park.

As an alternative to the park, some people asked the Planning Board to instead allow dogs to run off leash in the open space.

But doing so is against county park regulations, according to Assistant Chief Capt. Jeff Coe. Allowing dogs to run off leash in the public, often busy, space would be a safety hazard to people, other dogs and wildlife, he said.

Kat Atwater spoke in favor of the dog park, while her dog, Echo, slept in the background. She said: “If this is ultimately about values … think about members of this community who are not being served with their taxpayer dollars.”

“Some people have children. I have Echo,” Atwater said. “I, too, should have a space in this county near my home where the parks facilities can serve me and my needs. Dogs want to run and we can create a safe space for that.”

The idea for the 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.

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

Other recommended sites were:

• North Chevy Chase Local Park
• Elm Street Urban Park
• Willard Avenue Local Park
• Wall Local Park,
• Jesup Blair Local Park
• South Four Corners Neighborhood Park
• Layhill Village Local Park
• Washington Square Local Park
• Ovid Hazen Wells Recreational Park
• Calverton-Galway Local Park
• South Four Corners Neighborhood Park
• South Germantown Recreational Park.

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