Villagers lined up at the podium Wednesday morning to give an earful to the Amenity Authority Committee about their unhappiness over the loss of an adhoc dog park behind the Rio Grande Family Pool.
The expansion of the air gun range behind the Rio Grande Family Pool includes a plan to fence off access to acreage that has been used for years as a place to allow dogs to run free.
Residents lined up to complain about the quality and safety of The Villages’ official dog parks, questioned the usage of the air gun range and wanted to know about the Developer’s role in limiting access to the acreage.
Villager Denise Ridge said “hundreds of pets will be displaced” and predicted the existing dog parks will be “overwhelmed.”
AAC legal counsel Lewis Stone said the committee does not have authority to allow access to the property.
“People who are accessing that property don’t have a legal right to be there,” he said.
AAC Chair Ann Forrester attempted to cut off audience comments after 35 minutes, but residents were unwilling to surrender the microphone. Residents continued to take to the podium for another 20 minutes.
AAC member Don Deakin suggested that the committee “explore a possible avenue with the Developer” that the land be retained as a “nature preserve” and an area for dog walkers. He said perhaps the Developer could “dedicate” the property for such a use.
His suggestion received an enthusiastic round of applause from the crowd, dominated by dog owners.
However, District Manager Richard Baier said a “nature preserve” and a “dog park” are two very different uses of the property, which is not owned by the AAC. A dog park would require fencing and other upgrades.
“In Florida law, there is no middle ground,” Baier said.
However, Deakin kept pushing for a way to find that middle ground.
“I am asking that staff have discussion with the Developer to provide access to the people. I would like to explore what other options there could be. I am not asking for a dog park,” Deakin said.
Deakin’s idea did not gain traction with his fellow AAC members.
“Legal counsel is the way we run this board. We have to listen to our legal counsel,” said AAC member Carl Bell.
Other unsanctioned dog parks have caused headaches for Villages officials:
• The AAC has struggled with dog owners and golf carts gathering on the grass at a retention pond near The Villages Regional Hospital. Last year, the AAC spent $12,000 to put in golf cart parking at that location. AAC members have recently lamented that it hasn’t been 100 percent effective.
• Last year, the Project Wide Advisory Committee backed down after hearing from dog owners about access to a three-acre parcel along the multi-modal path that parallels Morse Boulevard south of County Road 466A. A Premier homeowner had complained about noise and smell from dogs on the public green space in back of his residence. PWAC had agreed to put up a $5,700 fence but decided not to after dog owners packed their meeting.