White Rock city council will seek public input within the next few weeks about whether to allow leashed dogs on the promenade during the off-season. (File photo)

White Rock seeks input on dogs-on-promenade issue

Public forum to be scheduled within 3-4 weeks

White Rock Promenade could be used by dog owners with leashed pets as soon as September – provided White Rock council gives final approval to a bylaw amendment prepared by city staff.

But while council members gave first, second and third readings to the amendment Monday night, they hewed to a staff recommendation to consult the community in general – as well as Semiahmoo First Nation and the BNSF – before giving final adoption.

If approved, the bylaw amendment would allow owners to bring their dogs onto the promenade between Sept. 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020.

But Couns. Erika Johanson and Scott Kristjanson – both of whom voted against the amendment – had wanted to shorten the trial period, Johanson by pushing the start date to Oct. 1 and Kristjanson by concluding it at the end of March.

“When we first reviewed this I thought it was going to be a cakewalk…that the public would be very happy with it,” Kristjanson said. “It’s clear that there’s a lot of people who have different opinions on this.”

Johanson, who sought assurance that giving initial readings would not “tie our hands,” said she would like to see a community forum on the topic which would give speakers two minutes each to give their opinions.

Corporate administration director Tracey Arthur said such a meeting could be scheduled within “the next three to four weeks” at the White Rock Community Centre.

Council directed staff to arrange this, as well as selecting an option that, if the amendment is approved, would see the city shouldering a $20,000 cost for providing dog waste bags and dispensers along the promenade.

The bylaw amendment was prepared after council members unanimously supported a motion from Coun. Helen Fathers on Dec. 10.

Former civic candidate Mike Armstrong, representing the Dog Owners Group of White Rock, had suggested a one-year reviewable program, arguing that a key to restoring vibrancy on the waterfront was to allow dog owners to walk their pets on the promenade in off-season months.

But resident Susan Potzold – a long-time opponent of allowing dogs on the promenade – claimed in a slide presentation to council Monday that Armstrong’s assertion that 40 per cent of residents are dog owners is exaggerated.

“Only 6.9 per cent (of residents) have paid for dog licences,” Potzold said.

She added that scientific studies have shown that bacteria from dog feces left on the promenade or adjacent grassy areas would take a year to be fully cleaned away by the elements. Safety of pedestrians, including seniors and children, should be of paramount importance, she said.

Potzold said she had been told by council to leave out one slide – which she described as “a horrible, horrible picture of a little boy bitten by a dog.”

But in questioning from Fathers, planning and development services director Carl Johannsen said there had been no incidents of dog bites on the promenade in the memory of current bylaw enforcement officers.

He said a total of 20 tickets had been issued to dog owners in 2018 for either off-leash incidents or lack of a dog licence and that compliance with regulations requiring removal of dog feces from the promenade was “100 per cent.”

“Data-driven information is really important, and not just anecdotal scare tactics,” Fathers said. “I am also really scared of the possibility of dogs biting children, but to use that as the information, it’s just not accurate.”

In a written report to council on the measure, Johannsen noted the provision of dispensers and bags by a third-party supplier would come at a price – allowing adjacent advertising signs, which would establish a precedent for advertising on the promenade.

There were a number of other issues, Johanssen said, that needed to be considered before giving final approval to the bylaw amendment.

While noting it would be advantageous to dog owners, and could draw more visitors to the waterfront in the off-season months, Johannsen said the narrowness of the paved promenade would put pedestrians and dogs in close proximity, which could spark conflicts.

He added that the presence of dogs on the promenade, and the potential for them accessing the beach could interfere with migratory bird habitat (an issue he said had already been raised by SFN).

BNSF, from which the city leases the promenade land, would also need to be consulted about changes to the lease – including signange and potential advertising – Johannsen said.

While permitting only leashed dogs would alleviate some concerns of both SFN and BNSF, Johannsen said, there would also be financial ramifications.

Planning director Carl Johannsen’s report estimated costs of $10,000 to update current signage, plus a $2,000 capital cost to provide dog waste bag dispensers along the promenade.

Were the choice to be for the city to supply the bags, that would add another $16,000 annually, plus $4,000 of labour resources, he said.

There would also be additional potential costs for cleaning dog waste from pavers and grassy areas, he said, as well as for staff to enforce the bylaw amendment.

None of the related costs, Johannsen added, are covered by the current city budget for 2019.

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