Controversial Stonington Borough dog park is history

Stonington — There will no longer be an off-leash dog park next to the sewer treatment plant in the borough.

On Wednesday night, the Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to settle a lawsuit filed against the town by neighbors of the park, which in part calls for anyone bringing a dog into the area to keep it on a leash.

Laura Ann Gabrysch and Frank Mastrapasqua, who own a home at 13 Front St. that borders the park, alleged in their suit that the town had been operating an “illegal dog park,” that it had not received any permits or zoning approvals for the park, that it posed a danger to the public and was a nuisance. Other neighbors complained about incessant barking and shouting, feces strewn about and harassment by dog park users.

Last year the town formed a committee that developed a report to address problems with the park and neighbors’ complaints. It then recommended the town create an off-leash area away from the homes and make other improvements to formally create the park. The town also obtained approval from the borough Planning and Zoning Commission to install a 3-foot-11-inch-tall fence to provide a buffer between dogs and the neighbors.

The agreement calls for the town to remove signs that indicate dogs can be off leash, erect a sign informing dog owners their pets must be on a leash and that the southeast gates to the property remain locked in the open position. In addition, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday declared the entire Town Dock area, where the treatment plant is located, as an on-leash area for dogs.

The town already had withdrawn its application for the fence. In exchange, Gabrysch and Frank Mastrapasqua have agreed to drop their lawsuit and their appeal of the fence.

Simmons explained earlier Wednesday that there were several reasons he negotiated an agreement to end “a mess” that he inherited from two previous administrations.

First, he said, the Board of Warden and Burgesses in the borough, where the park is located, did not want the town to formally create the park and erect the new fence because the controversy was continuing to increase the borough’s legal fees. Simmons said the town already has expended $22,000 and its insurance company another $28,000 defending the suit, which was not set for trial until 2018.

The borough also had indicated that it planned to declare the entire Town Dock an on-leash zone if the town proceeded with plans to create the park. This spring, Warden Jeff Callahan proposed amending the borough’s dog ordinance that requires all dogs be on a leash of no longer than 10 feet, to include the Town Dock area, where the dog park, formally known as the Sewer Treatment Expansion Parcel, is located. He was waiting to learn the terms of the settlement before deciding how to proceed with his amendment.

“The area will remain open to the public. Anyone can go in there, but their dogs have to be on a leash just like if they were at the Farmers Market (also at the Town Dock) or in Wadawanuck Square,” Simmons said.

“I’m also not willing to put any more money into this, especially since the borough has told us they will pull the plug on the park,” Simmons added.

He also pointed out the Water Pollution Control Authority has endorsed a proposal by a solar energy company to place 500 solar panels on the dog park site. Those panels, combined with more planned for the Pawcatuck sewer plant, could save the town as much as $1.4 million in energy bills over 20 years. The solar panels will need borough zoning approval.

Simmons also said that dog park supporters had not offered any financial assistance to the town or appeared at any borough meetings to fight for the park.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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