These are the prepared remarks of Kelly Morenus in her address to the Babylon Village Board on Jan 11th, 2022.
To the esteemed members of the Babylon village board and my fellow community members:
At the last board meeting, I got up and spoke about how the George Street dog park is an essential part of our community, and an essential part of my life as a resident of George Street.
I was surprised and saddened to hear others speaking against a cherished part of this community, and I have come again to discuss my love and need for this dog park, and to beseech you not to give in to the complaints of others and to maintain this dog park in its current location. At the last meeting, someone suggested that because dogs sometimes bark in the dog park, that dogs have more rights than residents. Now, I like my dog more than I like most humans. He is kind, playful, loving, loyal, and protective. As someone who supports animal rights, if I could give him rights, I would. But to say that dogs have more rights than people because dogs run in the park is ridiculous and inaccurate. Let us be clear. My dog has very little rights. But as his owner, I have rights. Collectively, as dog owners, we have rights and we have come here tonight to assert our rights to continue to use the dog park as the community utility which it was intended to be. As a dog owner, socializing and exercising my dog is an activity I choose to engage in. Taking care of my dog and bringing him to the park may be something Eli enjoys, but I choose to do it because it brings me joy as well. To simplify this to be a matter of dogs versus people is silly. This is a matter of a small minority who do not enjoy the sounds of the community versus the many of us who own dogs and use this park.
Yes, sometimes, dogs bark. Yes, it can be annoying when they do so. Sometimes, when dogs are playing they will bark. I’m sure it can be inconvenient, but sometimes noise is a natural by-product of living in a community. When I lived in Brightwaters, the family who lived behind me had a son who was an avid drummer. He would practice his drums with gusto at all kinds of hours, and it felt personal when he would do it when I was trying to relax, take a nap, or read quietly in my backyard. I would get frustrated. However, there was not anything I could do about it. While I did not enjoy listening to his drumming, I would not dream of trying to interfere with his right to practice his drums simply because I found it inconvenient. I could choose to play music, invest in thicker curtains, use earplugs, or just get on with my life. There is a similar inconvenience happening here. People described the noise as constant and incessant, but I believe that is inaccurate and a mischaracterization of what is happening. The overwhelming majority of the time, the park is empty and/or quiet. Often there are only one or two dogs in the park, quietly socializing. Occasionally, there will be loud barking coming from the park. While I acknowledge this might be irritating to some while it is happening, I do not believe this is cause for drastic action; rather, this is a natural part of living in a community. As it is, people have the right to make a certain amount of noise in their community. This can include playing music, hosting a party, mowing their lawns, doing construction work, and others. I understand that whalers cove may have more restrictive rules on certain noise violations, but as the dog park is outside of the residence of whalers cove and is on village property, it should not be restricted. The noise is a natural part of life.
As I mentioned last time, this dog park was a lure for me when deciding where to purchase my home. The main reason I chose to purchase a home back in 2016 was so that I could participate in rescuing dogs. My family had rescued a dog back in 2014 and I had gotten involved in the rescue, and I was devastated seeing so many dogs lose their lives because no one said yes to foster. Although I had a good, affordable, and safe apartment, it did not allow pets so I began to look at purchasing my own home. As a single woman on a limited budget, I prioritized homes that would be ideal for looking after dogs, but that also provided a great location for other reasons as well. I was thrilled when I found my home on George Street and knew before I had finished touring the home that I would be making an offer. Although my home has a very small fenced yard, I knew that the large fenced area at the end of the road would be perfect for exercising and socializing dogs. Additionally, I felt so fortunate to have found a home within walking distance of shops, restaurants and near enough to trails, the bay, and a community pool. I have loved this village since I moved in.
However, when the village began locking the dog park at night and in the morning in spring 2021, I felt I had been given a bit of a raw deal. Up until this point, the dog park had not been locked. It was temporarily locked in 2020, out of an abundance of caution, and yet Eli dragged me to the fence every morning, sniffing at the gate, and could not fathom why we could not go in. It broke my heart to drag him away. I was pleased when it opened up again, and so was Eli. As a public school teacher, I have to leave for work before 7am and I used to bring my dog in sometimes in the morning when I did not have enough time to give him a proper walk. Sometimes, in the winter, when I got home a little late, I would bring him in by himself to give him a chance to run free. Although I am aware that Babylon village parks open at 8am, the dog park was a community asset that was occasionally used privately and discreetly outside of those hours, to the great benefit of dog owners who lacked the space to let their dogs run free. Now, I am aware that sometimes this used to be abused by dog owners who would congregate prior to 8am. However, the reaction to this has been disproportionate to other Babylon village parks. For example, plenty of people go running in Southards pond prior to the official 8am open or will take an early morning walk around argyle lake. Even other parks that are fenced in are not locked. I wish that Babylon village would reconsider locking these parks, and instead opt for a large sign with posted hours and give tickets if noise ordinances are violated prior to the official opening hours. Certainly, other parks in Babylon village that are used outside of the official opening hours are used differently; some are used by people smoking marijuana or using other drugs, but for some reason dogs barking is responded to with more forceful restrictions. Although dogs may be noisier, other unsavory uses of village property have, in my opinion, a greater impact on quality of life in the village.
As it is, the current restrictions have had a detrimental effect on my quality of life, as I have lost the ability to take my dog to the park on certain days. The park is not opened until after I leave for work, and is often closed before I get home. Not only has Eli lost the ability to exercise and socialize with his George Street friends, but I have also lost the social interaction I would get from the early evening crowd at the dog park. In fact, I am grateful to have found a community at the dog park and friends I might not otherwise have known had I not been a dog owner who uses the park. The people I have met at the park have been kind, welcoming, and diverse. I have gotten to know lots of people. At the last meeting, users of the dog park were disparaged but in my experience the people I have met have been kind, respectful and responsible. Again, I would urge a reconsideration of the decision to lock the park.
I would also like to address the issue of location. As I mentioned before, the location of the dog park, to me, is absolutely essential. It was so important to me when purchasing my house, and when my mom comes and lets my dogs out sometimes while I am at work, it is an asset for her to be able to take them to the park. As someone with MS, she is unable to take the dogs on long walks, but the dog park allows her to give the dogs exercise while staying within her range of motion. I am aware that there is another dog park just north of the train tracks and west of the train station. Some people have suggested that this be used instead of the George Street Dog Park. This is not a viable option for several reasons. For one, it is inaccessible for many people as there is no place to park nearby, especially when the train parking lots are full. Further, it is uphill from the parking lot that is there and not as well paved. That would be difficult for my mother or anyone with mobility issues to access. Third, being so close to the train tracks it is not a good location for a dog park, as my dog is absolutely terrified of the train. Whenever we walk near there, he is scared and has his tail between his legs. Finally, that location is not necessarily safe. I have noticed that many people hang out in that area, some of whom I suspect are drug users or unstable. I would worry about walking through that area alone. The George Street location is ideal for me, and many others who use that park. It has been an established part of the community for years, and should not be removed now. I understand that at the last meeting a member suggested that other dog parks are located further away from residences. This is a little bit misleading. While there are some dog parks located nearby that are hundreds of feet from the nearest residence, there are others that are directly adjacent to residences. Many that are located far from residences are located within larger parks; they are there as a utility in the park, not necessarily because they are away from domiciles. There is a dog park in Massapequa that is directly across a street from homes, there is Gilbert park in Brightwaters which directly abuts a home and is only open to unleashed dogs from 6-9am, a dog park in Wantagh is across the street from homes, as is another one in Sayville. Additionally, many apartment buildings and other condominium complexes have their own private dog parks on site, adjacent to people’s homes. While I certainly cannot vouch that no one minds, this is something that people live with. Further, in prior real estate advertisements for homes in whalers cove, the fact that there is a dog park nearby is advertised as a resource. There are others, like me, who have seen the nearby dog park as an asset and a necessity, not as a nuisance. While I’m sorry some people do not feel that way, it does not change that this is a necessary place for many of us who use it.
Finally, I would like to address another issue that came up last time which I also believe to be a misstatement. Some residents of whalers cove claimed that the dog park is driving down their property values. There is no evidence of this. I looked repeatedly on Zillow and MLS and I cannot find evidence of any current homes for sale in Whalers cove. However, according to Zillow’s price and tax history, there was a home that sold in July 2020 for above asking price, a home which sold in September 2020 for 98.7% of its asking price, and a home that sold above its asking price in April 2021. Further, a home at 85 george street (which is closer to the dog park than some residences in Whalers cove) which sold in July 2021 for above its asking price. While there is no evidence that home values in the neighborhood have declined, I believe that if anything has negatively impacted the property values of our home it is the absolute travesty that is the current state of Babylon public schools, and not the minor inconvenience of a few dogs barking. If there is anything in this village worth growing outraged over, it is the appalling nature of sexual grooming that was allowed to continue in our public schools for far too long. A little bit of barking seems rather trivial in nature.
Thank you very much for taking the time to listen to my concerns. I would like to underscore that Babylon village is a place I am proud to call home. I love living near such a vibrant and dynamic community. When I walk around the neighborhood, seeing dogs and having such a dog friendly community is one of the things that makes this a special place to call home. Please don’t take the dog park away.