Advocates’ Lobbying Falls Short as Chevy Chase Board Pulls Plug on Dog Park
Battle lines had formed over noise vs. sense of community
Supporters wearing white baseball caps emblazoned with “Sit. Stay. Save the Chevy Chase Dog Park.” attended a meeting on Monday, when a majority of the Chevy Chase Village Board of Managers voted to shut down the park.
Photos by Kate Masters
By 8:30 p.m. on Monday, the Chevy Chase Village offices had cleared. A crowd of neighbors had filed, disgruntled, from the first-floor hearing room.
And the Chevy Chase Dog Park — known formally as the Brookville Road Park Dog Exercise Area — was formally closed for good.
It was the worst possible outcome for a crowd of supporters who, just 45 minutes earlier, had electrified the room. More than a dozen of them sat in matching white baseball caps emblazoned with the catchy endorsement “Sit. Stay. Save the Chevy Chase Dog Park.”
Chris Manning, who visited the park regularly with his 7-month-old puppy, joked about testifying on a matter of “national importance.” Judi Dash cooed over the renovated park, the site of a High’s gas station when she was growing up in Chevy Chase Village.
If the hearing room was a pack, they were top dog. They had the numbers. They had the national spotlight.
What they didn’t have was the support of the Chevy Chase Village Board of Managers. Seven volunteer legislators faced the crowd, holding the fate of the dog park in their hands, and all but two voted to “disestablish” the park, in the chosen parlance of the official meeting agenda.
They knew what they were getting themselves into. Assistant Secretary Richard Ruda made the initial motion.
“I move to disestablish the dog exercise area effective immediately,” he said, his microphone squealing as he spoke. The crowd shifted.
“We can’t hear you,” a voice yelled.
“I’m not sure you want to,” he replied, even lower.
“Oh, Richard,” Dash said with a gasp.
The popularity of the dog park was never in question. Of all the calls and emails and letters received by the board — and displayed in well-organized binders in front of them — only nine came from opponents of the dog park, said board member Linda Willard, who voted to preserve the space along with Vice Chair Robert Goodwin Jr.
More than 50 came from neighbors including Jill Pennington, who sat proudly in the front row in her “Save the Dog Park” cap.
Pennington doesn’t live in Chevy Chase Village, the incorporated Montgomery County neighborhood where the dog park was technically established. But she does live in the neighboring suburb of Chevy Chase and drives her deaf dog Skylark — a pit bull-Labrador mix named for a 1998 Buick — to enjoy the park with her sister, Judy Johnson.
“We’ve been going to this dog park for years, before the village spent $100,000 or whatever it was to renovate it and this suddenly became a problem,” Pennington said. She was referring to a period before last autumn, before the village invested $134,000 to clean up the park and it was nothing more than a muddy patch of ground surrounded by chicken wire.
Back then, some residents did run their dogs off-leash, even though it wasn’t officially allowed, board treasurer Gary Crockett acknowledged. The renovation, he said, made the park a victim of its own success, attracting more dog owners than the residential neighborhood could reasonably support.
But Pennington thought the investment suddenly gave the village an undeserved sense of control over who could use the public space.
“I don’t know if it’s because the village gave that financial contribution, so they feel entitled to say who can come to the dog park,” she said. “But we have not created chaos there. We have created a community.”
It was a common refrain from most of the 13 residents who came up to testify.
“There’s a lot of people in this room that I wouldn’t have met without this park,” said Roland Miller, whose house on Primrose Street abuts the space.
It was no different from a neighborhood with a church, or a public playground, where the on-street parking is occasionally used by visitors outside the neighborhood, others argued.
Besides, proponents of the park had already compromised so much. The hours were shortened after a last-ditch plea at the last public hearing in July, said Julia Small, a Chevy Chase resident who visits the park daily with her miniature Goldendoodle, Finn. Barking dogs, and their owners, are politely asked to leave. Dog feces is promptly and quietly removed.
But that’s not the point, responded board Chair Elissa Leonard, the wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. Clad in a no-nonsense black blazer and elegant navy turtleneck blouse, she tried to start the meeting on the right foot.
“It’s the first meeting of September and that always feels like the start of school,” she said with a hesitant smile.
“Mic!” someone commanded loudly from the back.
Now, an hour in, Leonard’s patience was reaching an end.
“It’s not meeting the standards that I would want in an off-leash park in the village,” she said.
The detractors might be few, but they were persistent and they had a point. Dog parks are regularly considered “high-impact” by local planning departments thanks to the crowds and the noise they tend to attract, Crockett pointed out.
Long-time residents had a right to expect peace and quiet in their own backyards, added Assistant Treasurer Nancy Watters, disappointed by the shouting from the dog park proponents.
“I think the question is, ‘How much burden are the people living by the park expected to bear just to have the luxury of dogs running free?’” she asked. “You have to support the people who want quiet in their own homes.”
The crowd did not. Boos filled the room after the final vote as supporters stood up to leave.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” one yelled.
“We’re all leaving,” another pointed out. The moderator of the Save the Chevy Chase Dog Park Facebook group called the Board of Managers a “kangaroo court.”
The park is still open to people and their dogs, Goodwin pointed out, as long as the canines are kept on leashes. He didn’t fear a lawsuit or other avenging actions on the part of its supporters. But in a hushed conversation with Watters outside the hearing room, it was clear the dog park discussion wasn’t going away anytime soon.
“It’s not going to end,” he told her softly.
“No,” she replied. “It’s not going to end.”