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    Monday, March 27, 2023

    Dog-park litigants had ‘no other choice’

    In a recent letter to the editor, “Simmons refutes critic of dog park efforts,” First Selectman Rob Simmons of Stonington suggested that our attorney made false statements about the illegal “dog park” in the Borough, near the Town Dock. The first selectman’s description of what transpired makes me wonder if we have been at the same meetings.

    How would you feel if you came to an agreement with the first selectman, shook hands, placed a pending lawsuit in abeyance, and then watched the entire process and agreement eviscerated? Simmons asked our attorney to draft the mission for the committee, which was provided to him well in advance, and then was completely ignored when the committee was formed, and only partially restored after we objected.

    After being told that we could be members of this committee, my wife and I received a form saying we had to be registered voters of the town, when the first selectman knew perfectly well that we weren’t. Later, we were told that this was a mistake. The number of committee members was expanded far beyond what Simmons told me, thereby diluting the influence of those most directly affected by the “dog park.” Only two of the 13 members represented adjacent property owners. The rest of the membership was stacked with those who use or support the “dog park.”

    This is not the first time we have been lied to. Former First Selectman Ed Haberek denied that there was a dog park at this location. Then subsequent First Selectman George Crouse promised us a committee, with neighbor representation, to study a suitable location for a dog park and set rules and monitoring procedures. It never happened.

    We have lost all faith in the town’s leadership and concluded litigation was our only effective remedy.

    This conclusion has been reinforced by the despicable behavior of the committee. Our neighbors, two women, became committee members and have been so mistreated that they have subsequently resigned. These neighbors have experienced abuse for more than five years, with dog feces being thrown at them and deliberate attempts to antagonize them by dog zealots. The town did nothing.

    The lies perpetuated by the dog zealots at the last STEP meeting are astonishing.

    The illegal “dog park” is not a sanguine environment with dogs that do not bark, are under the control of their owners, and by some miracle do not defecate or otherwise harm the land and the surrounding environment. It is a dangerous place that has seen the likes of pit bulls, Dobermans, and Rottweilers, as well as unneutered and unsocialized dogs. We brought our dogs to Stonington once and never brought them back.

    The ad hoc, unregulated “dog park” is not the tranquil place that its advocates want you to think it is.

    Under the logic used to justify this “dog park,” any patch of grass in Stonington could become a public dog park, skate board park, or active recreation area with no zoning review or formal decision by a local agency.

    Look at other dog parks. They do not abut residences. They are designed and improved in accordance with accepted standards and require maintenance and supervision. None of that is true for the ad hoc “dog park.”

    We have heard people criticize us for bringing a lawsuit over the illegal dog park next to our home, but that isn’t where all this started. More than five years ago, our neighbors asked the town to address the abuses of this substandard, unregulated, unsupervised dog park and they were ignored. They didn’t bring a lawsuit. When Crouse told us that we would be members of a committee to address those same deficiencies, we waited and didn’t bring a lawsuit. Even after Crouse reneged on his promise and we did sue, we put that suit on hold when Simmons made the same promises to us, only to break them.

    At this point, we no longer believe Stonington officials will honor any promises they make. We want the dog park gone from this location.

    Lawsuits don’t come from wealthy newcomers. Lawsuits come from broken promises, abuse of power, and political games that leave affected people with no other choice.

    Frank Mastrapasqua and Laura Ann Gabrysch, who own a Front Street home that borders the park, have sued the town, alleging it has been allowing an “illegal dog park.”

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