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The village recreation board finished a proposal that suggests turning a portion of the land behind the Altenheim retirement home into another dog park in Forest Park.
The 11 acres of undeveloped land at 7824 Madison St. has been relatively unused since the village purchased it in 2001. The property has been on the market since the end of last year after a deal fell through with the YMCA. Fenwick High School, in partnership with Dominican University, expressed interest last summer in purchasing the land, but talks have been slow to resume since then.
In the meantime, the rec board has wanted to utilize the open space and found that a dog park would be the most feasible option for a temporary park.
“We saw the Altenheim property as a new opportunity to expand,” said Jennifer Wolfe, chairperson of the board. “It’s really unused dead space. How great would it be to do a temporary dog park there?”
The plan calls for fencing off 1.3 acres in the southwest corner of the property for the park. This particular area is already bordered by a cemetery and the CTA parking lot, so a fence is only needed on two sides. The board said that the temporary fence would cost about $1,700 to rent for one year.
The park would also be about 250 feet away from the closest occupied building of the Altenheim and roughly 350 feet away from the residences at the Grove. There is also a line of trees in between the Grove and the proposed lot, which would add another buffer to any noise or barking from the park.
“It’s not like there’s going to be dogs barking in your ear,” Wolfe said. “There’s a lot of space.”
Other than a garbage can, a bag dispenser and maybe a sign, there won’t be too much to add to the park since the board wanted to keep it low-budget.
“Because of the uncertainly of what will happen with the property, we don’t want to go through any great expenses,” said Marty Tellalian, who, as village government’s commissioner of public property, serves as the village council’s liaison to the rec board.
They will not install a water fountain, and the park will have to close at sundown since there are no lights. No additional parking will be added, but they expect to designate an area along the gravel road.
Overall, Tellalian said it’s an effort that is “worth trying.”
“It’s public property; it should be used,” he said. “If we have problems, then we can adjust.”
If all goes well, he is hoping it could eventually become a permanent fixture on the property, depending on who buys the land. (Only 7.7 of the 11 acres are allowed to be developed, which means the idea is possible.)
Forest Park is also “way below the standards” of park space, said Theresa Marousek, rec board member. The Urban Land Institute recommends 25.5 acres of park land per every 1,000 residents. The board estimated that Forest Park has about 25 percent of what it should in terms of park space, based on those figures.
The village’s current dog park, at the southeast corner of Circle and Lehmer, measures about one fourth of an acre. (The American Kennel Club recommends at least one acre of space for a dog park.) The proposed park, therefore, would offer much more room than the current spot.
“Some dogs need more space before they’ll run,” Marousek said.
Mary Wentland, a 62-year-old from Oak Park, said more space would be nice for her dog, a Catahoula leopard hound named Gracie.
“It can get crowded here, so that would be a big help,” said Wentland, who brings Gracie to the park nearly every day. “It’d be more like taking them to the woods.”
Mary Mroz, a 27-year-old Brookfield resident, said she would take her dog Rocko, a boarder collie mix, to both dog parks if Forest Park built another one.
“There isn’t any other dog park around here,” Mroz said. “It’s a good place for them to come play with other dogs and get their energy out.”
Most parks in Forest Park do not allow dogs even if the animals are on a leash, which is a common rule in most towns. A park that is designed for dogs is actually quite rare, though, in the suburbs and in the city.
“I think Forest Park is pretty progressive for having a dog park, considering not many places around here do,” said Marousek, who noted that the next closest one is in Oak Brook. “It’s very popular and gets used virtually every single day in the year. It attracts people as far was Berwyn, Brookfield and Countryside.”
Marousek, along with the rest of the rec board, hopes that the second dog park would do the same.
The board plans to soon present the proposal to village council, which has the final say on what is done with the property.