NORTH CENTER — Though the Horner Park Advisory Council has been exploring the idea of a dog-friendly area for more than two years, and is eons away from breaking ground should the project come to fruition, neighbors are complaining that the process feels rushed.
"I think there's concern this is moving ahead too fast," said John Friedmann, one of nearly 50 residents who attended a recent update from the dog-friendly area committee.
Over the past weeks, HPAC volunteers have been canvassing homes within a five-block radius of the park, soliciting "yes" or "no" opinions on the dog run, yet Friedmann noted that there's no design for residents to review.
"If the public doesn't know the design, how do we know what we're voting for?" he asked.
"We're not here to try to ram this thing through," said Peter Schlossman, president of HPAC.
He explained that the advisory council was simply following protocol laid out by the Chicago Park District, which calls for a "pretty specific set of events" to occur — such as petitioning, conducting a year-long usage survey and holding public meetings — before a group can even begin to think about a design.
"We're not supposed to approach the Park District with a design until we're through information gathering," said Schlossman.
David Ash questioned why alternatives to Horner Park hadn't been explored, suggesting adjacent California Park as a more suitable site.
"There are big sections nobody uses and there aren't people playing baseball or soccer," he said, pointing to areas surrounding California Park's ice rink and swimming pool.
"That seems to me a better use of land."
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), who was in attendance at the meeting, responded, "That's something to take a look at. Sure."
Still HPAC has crafted a tentative plan to locate the dog-friendly area at the southern edge of Horner Park, where the council has identified enough open space for a 1.8-acre dog run, the largest permitted by the Park District.
"We want to make it as big as possible to motivate people to use it," said Schlossman.
The size, which represents 3.5 percent of Horner's acreage, is enough to give dog owners the "freedom to throw a Frisbee and have their dog retrieve it."
"It's one of the best shady areas, it's great for picnics," objected Janet Thompson. "Wouldn't it make more sense to use an area that's not used?"
Thompson also broached the subject of an environmental impact study, which is not required by the Park District, and the issue of other wildlife supported by the area proposed for the dog run, particularly given that it will be constructed of synthetic turf.
"I don't know if a bird can pull a worm through AstroTurf," she said.
Linda Ciaccio, who was involved in the creation of a much smaller dog area at nearby River Park, argued that dog owners create a positive presence, lingering in a park for hours and acting as a deterrent to mischief makers.
"It brings people together, it brings people to the neighborhood," added Kathryn Pensack.
After nearly an hour of public comments, though, the issue had done more to divide folks than unite them.
"We're trying to strike a balance between the different needs of the community. If the consensus is that this isn't a good fit, it's not going to happen," said Erica Beutler, a member of the Dog Friendly Committee.
"We're not bulldozing Meigs Field here."
The next meeting of the Horner Park Advisory Council is scheduled for March 4, 7 p.m., at the Horner Park fieldhouse, 2741 W. Montrose Ave., second floor meeting room.