Dogs may roam free in Winter Park’s Fleet Peeples Park, but they may not roam for free. During the Aug. 23 Winter Park City Commission meeting, Commissioner Beth Dillaha suggested a way to ease the budget— charging to let dogs use the park.
The surprise item came up during discussion about the dog park, and generated controversy immediately, both on and in front of the dais.
“Some of the comments that were made were very wrong and very inappropriate,” Mayor Ken Bradley said.
He also questioned Dillaha’s motives regarding the proposed amendment to charge fees and reduce the dog park’s size.
“I think it was nothing but a smokescreen by Commissioner Dillaha to limit the attendance to the park,” Bradley said. “I think this should be called for what it is, which is a blatant attempt to close the dog park.”
Both sides turned passionate when voicing opinions and anecdotes about how they’d like to see the park used, with Dillaha reading a park user’s written account out loud at the dais.
“Upon entry to the park, a large dog aggressively came toward me,” Dillaha read. “I was so alarmed and fearful of an attack that I pulled out a pocket knife. There was no ranger on duty to report an incident. Needless to say, I will not return to that park.”
“That to me is a very serious incident,” Dillaha said.
Dillaha had proposed a usage fee to help fund a ranger to monitor the park and to maintain safety. Dogs would also need to be vaccinated to use the park. She also proposed that the park be reduced in size.
The City Commision voted 4-1 on Aug. 23 to direct city staff to look into a fee schedule. Bradley was the dissenter. The item could appear on the Sept. 13 meeting agenda.
Before that vote, former Mayor Joe Terranova spoke out against any changes being made to the park’s master plan created a year ago.
“Last year, we had an approved agreement,” Terranova said. “We don’t need this motion that’s on the floor now. We certainly don’t need fees imposed upon our citizens at this time. We can’t tax our citizens for the park and then tax them again to use the park.”
Resident Peg Potter, who teaches with a boating club at the park, said that she’d personally experienced intimidation from dog owners against non-owners using the park.
“When we use the restrooms we’re accosted because we don’t have dogs,” Potter said. “We’ve been told there’s a rule that because we don’t have dogs, we have to leave because we can’t use the facilities.”
Dillaha said she hopes to come to an amicable compromise with the park so that it won’t be a cause for contention anymore.
“I want it to be something that the community can be proud of, and right now that’s just not the case,” Dillaha said. “I believe that we should be able to come together on this.”