Winter Park's Parks and Recreation Commission sent a letter to the City Commission on May 26 asking it not to allow animal-centered events near Central Park. The city's mayor is balking at the recommendation.
Residents and dog-lovers crowded the Parks Commission meeting to express distaste for the letter. But when the board motioned to send the letter without public input, the crowd quickly diminished.
Now the ball is in the City Commission's court.
The Parks and Recreation board is requesting special event permits only be issued if the event is consistent with the current animal ordinance that prohibits dogs "on any street, right of way, or sidewalk adjacent to Central Park that is closed to vehicular traffic during any special event."
Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley said he feels the Parks and Recreation board is creating a situation versus making suggestions to fix a problem.
"They told us they were suggesting adjustments to the policy, and it sounds like, the way I am reading it, that they are trying to enforce something that is very predatory," Bradley said.
He said he takes personal offense to what he described as a feeling that the board is trying to get rid of dogs in Winter Park. "From the actions of the Parks and Recreation board, I question if they want this to be a dog-friendly city," Bradley said.
Commissioner Beth Dillaha said she has not received any sort of recommendation from the Parks and Recreation board, but she looks forward to whatever recommendation they give. She said it's their job to review policies, and feels bad that board members are getting beaten up by folks who have possibly misconstrued what the board's discussion is about.
"I know there is a concern with Central Park, which historically has been a no-animal park," Dillaha said. "There is conflict with some events like The Doggie Door events; we need to come up with solutions because of its proximity to Central Park."
At the May 26 meeting, Parks and Recreation commissioner Bonnie Jackson said, "This has nothing to do with folks walking their dogs down Park Avenue and enjoying a sidewalk cafe. We want people to walk down Park Avenue and enjoy our city, but we don't want them to bring their dog to Central Park."
Patrick Chapin, president of Winter Park's Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the existing ordinance and interpretation of it is working just fine. He said he feels at a loss because city staff, who manages those events, [the Pet Costume Contest and the Annual Spring Doggie Art Festival] is not complaining about the events.
"I hope the Commission realizes the city staff interpretation has been satisfactory and has [organized] those events for many years," Chapin said. He also said not letting the pubic speak on the item at the Parks and Recreation meeting "was short-sighted and wasn't very productive."
Nancy Shutts, a Winter Park resident, said the board was doing it's job. "It's their responsibility to bring issues that are brought to their attention and then ask the higher bodies, which is the City Commission, if something needs to be done about it."
Mayor Bradley said his hope going forward is to request the board to look at the ordinance and see if something can be changed.
"Dog-friendly events on Park Avenue are a good thing, not a bad thing," Bradley said.