BETHEL — At the direction of selectmen, Town Manager Jim Doar will draft language for a June referendum on Bethel's dog park proposal.
The June vote would coincide with the annual referendum to elect selectmen and other town officials.
The board last week received a 125-signature “opinion poll.” The poll stated that signers are opposed to the park “being built on any property owned by the town of Bethel. Our wish is that no taxpayer money be used to construct and maintain said park now or in the future.”
The poll was presented by resident Sue Cross, according to Doar.
Selectmen and several residents discussed the dog park issue at Monday’s board meeting.
At a meeting of the Bethel Planning Board Wednesday night, planners approved the application for the dog park. Doar had said that process would continue independent of plans for a referendum. A one-hour public hearing preceded the Planning Board vote.
Selectman Pat Carter said there is a lot of strong feeling about the park, and most of what she has heard is negative.
Selectmen last summer authorized Doar to appoint Steve Wight of Newry as the agent, representing a dog park planning committee, to present a plan to the Bethel Planning Board.
The park would be on town land behind the Shell Station/Dunkin' Donuts on Route 2.
The plan has been likened to the skate park at the other end of the Pathway — a town project on town land, but with construction privately funded.
The cost to clear the land, do site work and install a chain-link enclosure is estimated at $33,800. The committee has said all those funds will be raised privately.
But some Bethel residents are skeptical that the financial burden will be entirely private, particularly over the longer term. Although the committee says dog owners will be responsible for cleaning up after their pets and emptying waste containers, some opponents believe the town will end up with financial responsibility for overall maintenance. They don’t want that to happen.
Edie Okenquist said that should the park become a reality, the dog park group should also be responsible to come up with funds for maintenance.
Doar said it had been made clear to the dog park committee that the town would not be responsible for cleanup, only for “light maintenance” similar to the skate park.
Some also questioned the choice of location for the park.
Selectman Don Bennett wondered about noise levels from barking dogs.
And, he said, “Every time I look at this issue, I say to myself, ‘why would you want to pick a place behind a gas station where snowmobiles travel, that has wetlands in it, where you’re going to have to cut trees, where you’re going to have to put up a $25,000 fence?’ There’s got to be a better place than this.”
Jack Cross suggested the other end of the Parkway, on land owned by the Mahoosuc Land Trust.
The board decided it would be best to put the current park proposal before voters.
Selectman Peter Southam said that prior to a June referendum it would be important to make sure the plan is published, along with a map of the site, so voters will have a clear understanding. “The sooner the better,” he said.
Doar said he would work on wording for the referendum.