Town on fence about dog ban at preserve
Published 12:00 am, Friday, September 25, 2015
Town Council members waited again to decide whether they want to ban dogs from the 16-acre Bristow Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve — despite a legal opinion from a town attorney that the decision is up to them.
The issue came up this spring when New Canaan Parks Commission voted unanimously to pursue banning dogs from the sanctuary property, which is between Mead Park and Route 106.
In a memo sent Aug. 26 to members of the Town Council, an attorney for the town, Gail Kelly, of Berchem, Moses, & Devlin law firm, said after a review of the 1934 deed and other documents, that Bristow is categorized as a park under town code and open to “active or passive recreation.” Under current town law, dogs are permitted on leash in such parks, and dogs have been allowed in Bristow since at least 1999, according to the memo.
Last week before the Town Council, Kelly said the lack of reference to dogs in the deed means the town would not need to take action to continue to allow dogs in the park, but would have to amend town ordinances if they wish to maintain it as a park with a pet ban.
“I did not come up with a conclusion of what the intent of the grantor was in terms of whether to ban dogs or not,” Kelly told the Town Council. “…This is a policy decision of the Town of New Canaan of whether it wants to ban dogs from the sanctuary.”
Kelly’s opinion was solicited by the council two months ago when Steve Karl, the chairman of the council’s bylaws and ordinances subcommittee, said the body needed legal advice to determine whether the property’s designation as a bird sanctuary required banning dogs.
At a public hearing over the summer, residents spoke out for and against a ban.
Karl said he would follow up with the town’s Conservation Commission and parks commission to discuss options to redesignate the land legally if a ban is decided on, Karl said.
“Do we look at this park as something we want folks to use or do we look at it as we really want to limit the use?” Karl said. “We heard from people in the neighborhood who want to walk their dogs through there . . . we’d be shutting down that park to a significant number of people in that area.”
The town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which had sought to ban dogs, said it would reconsider the issue of a ban this summer, but has yet to take it up.
Researching and further discussing the use of policies or ordinances on the preserve further might help find a solution that provides a better balance between all users and helps address issues of maintaining the property, said John Engel, a town council member.