NEW PORT RICHEY — The city always has banned pets in the James E. Grey Preserve, an 80-acre slice of pristine land on Plathe Road popular with visitors who want to get away from the surrounding West Pasco hustle and bustle.
But since the preserve opened in 2003, pet owners often have ignored the rule in the unstaffed park. The city recently erected signs informing visitors of the ban, which led to a request from one visitor to allow dogs in the park.
The New Port Richey City Council on Tuesday debated whether to allow dogs in the preserve. City staff members encouraged council members to keep the ban in place, expressing concern over unleashed dogs disturbing visitors, scaring off wildlife and leaving behind waste. Dogs are allowed in several other city parks, including Sims Park, Orange Lake and Cotee River Park. The city also operates the Meadows Dog Park at Larch and Meadowbrook lanes.
Deciding on whether to allow dogs in the preserve proved difficult, however, with the council split on the idea.
City Council member Chopper Davis pointed to the city's other open-to-dog parks as a reason to keep the preserve pet-free.
"I think we are offering the public that chance at this time," Davis said.
The Council should allow leashed dogs on a trial basis and react if it gets complaints from other visitors, Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey suggested, adding that people must control their pets in the preserve if they are to be allowed.
"I don't think it is hard to take it back. If we try it, and we get several reports of dogs running wild and people don't feel safe, boom, no more dogs in the preserve," he said. "It's as simple as that."
Council members asked the city Parks and Recreation Department to return with a report on the feasibility of allowing dogs in parts of the preserve and keeping a ban places such as the boardwalk, where encounters with dogs can be frightening to some.
In other news, the council approved preliminary work on improvements to the boat ramp and building a new restroom at Sims Park, off Main Street.
The council voted to pay $81,000 to Stroud Engineering Consultants for design and engineering services for a 16-foot extension of the boat ramp, dredging and removal of submerged rocks at the boat ramp loading area, seawall improvements, 340 feet of decorative sidewalk and a 500-square-foot restroom. Construction is expected to begin in February 2020, according to Stroud's proposal.