BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - The Bernards Township Committee on Tuesday night discussed _ but delayed making a decision _ whether to close, relocate or build a new entrance to the "Paws Park" dog run off South Maple Avenue that is located at township property, but which has its entrance through the school district's Varsity Field complex.
With two members of the Township Committee absent, and after hearing differing views presented by the other two committee members present, Deputy Mayor John Malay told the audience, "I don't think we want to make a decision tonight." Township officials said the issue will be rescheduled for the next Township Committee meeting, set to begin at 8 p.m. on Aug. 26.
Following impassioned pleas frorm at least six residents of the audience about how important the dog park is for both the canine and human members of their families, Malay added, "We can probably promise that the park will not be closed until an alternative is in place." Residents said the dog run is used at all times of the year, in all weather conditions. Several of the speakers also said that dog owners would likely be willing to pitch in to help solve some of the complaints about dog excrement and other issues.
According to the agenda for the Aug. 12 meeting, the school district's concerns about dogs entering Paws Park through the school field complex behind the township Community Center off South Maple Avenue include the presence of dog excrement on playing fields; pathways and practice areas; the proximity of waste receptacles that produce smells and attract insects; and the possibility of dangerous interactions between student athletes, the fans in the areas, and the dogs.
Among the alternatives discussed is moving the dog park to township-owned property behind Dewy Meadow Village off King George Road; building a new entrance to South Maple Avenue that would involve crossing state-protected wetlands property; or asking Somerset County to build a dog park in the northern part of the county.
The Board of Education already has banned canines from school property, according to a link on the agenda and comments at Tuesday's meeting.
Township Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano suggested that, for now, residents who want to use the park with their dogs walk across the township's War Memorial Field, further south on South Maple Avenue, in order to reach "Paws Park."
"If you're going there to walk your dog, you can't be wearing Tory Burch [designer] shoes," she noted.
The entrance to the park, named Paws Park in 2005, is via a path that runs alongside a playing field owned by the school district. Township Administrator Bruce McArthur said the Board of Education had been patient in seeking a solution the issue, and had been arranging to clean up after the dogs, or asking the township for help in cleaning up.
However, some supporters of the park pointed out that dog owners also pay taxes that support the schools, and they would like a share of local tax money for something that's important to them.
"What a benefit it is to have a dog park," said Jeff Dixon, who said she has been walking a new puppy there.
Many of the speakers said they also made close friendships while bringing their dogs to "Paws Park."
"I met all of these people at the dog park," said resident Jamie Casale.
The dog owners include residential who are single, or who may have no children in their homes, and still are paying school taxes, she noted. She said it is fair for those who pay high taxes to support local schools have at least part of the money spent for the dog park.
Caroline Ward, who lives in the northern section of the township, said she watched as her dog "blossomed" at the park, the only place in the area where she said her pet can run around off the leash.
"To lose that would be heartbreaking," Ward added.