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Minutes of the George Street Parkway Public Meeting - April 23,2013

Present from Skokie Park District

 

            President Mike Reid

            Executive Director John Ohrlund

            Superintendent of Parks – Mike Rea

Office Manager, Park Services – Dima Kirland

 

Others Present:         

Thomas Hedstrom

5313 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Gina DiBenedetto

5244 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

M. King

5431 W. Mulford

Skokie, Illinois

Jim Hosfield

5316 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Laurie Burton

5329 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Laurie Gresham

5329 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Mark Winston

5332 Mulford

Skokie, Illinois

David Zuperhu

5309 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Mike Davis

5345 Galitz

Skokie, Illinois

Dylan Leggeth

5244 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Lisa Palmer

5316 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Steven Fritzshall

5346 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Dave Kazwien

5301 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Brian Dinges

5306 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Krustyna Aghai

5351 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Patty O’Malley

5244 Mulford

Skokie, Illinois

Jerry Glunz

5341 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Lisa Kahara

5238 Mulford

Skokie, Illinois

John Flakne

5312 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Alleen Compe

5318 Mulford

Skokie, Illinois

Heidi Tarzian

5249 George St.

Skokie, Illinois

Christopher Leggett

925 Hinman Ave.

Skokie, Illinois

Ralph Klein

8721 Kedvale

Skokie, Illinois

Richard Witry

7835 Niles Center

Skokie, Illinois

Bruce Jones

Village of Skokie

Skokie, Illinois

 

President Reid called the meeting to order at 4:31 pm.  He welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending.  He asked the citizens to come to the podium and speak their mind.

Executive Director John Ohrlund welcomed everyone for attending.  He asked the citizens to keep comments civil as there are different opinions and to have mutual respect for one another. He explained that George Street Parkway is the property of the Skokie Park District.  It is not a Village owned property, even though the meeting is in Village Hall.  Skokie Park District is a separate entity from the Village.

The current ordinances related to the site are Village Ordinance 18-37 which states dogs are not allowed unless on a leash.  The Skokie Park District Ordinance 1.C.16a states that no dogs, cats or animals are allowed on District property, whether on a leash or not, unless assisting a sight impaired person, with a few exceptions.

Mr. Ohrlund reported that in 2002 the dog ordinance was publicly reviewed in a series of public meetings.  There had been some citizens who wanted to open parks up to dogs.  The main issues related to safety to children and adults, sanitation issues; and dog on dog safety.

The result was that the ordinance was retained on November 19, 2002.  It was also recognized that at 4 park locations it made sense to allow dogs on leash while on public paths.  The four locations are Devonshire Park, Central Park, Laramie Park and Dammrich Rowing Center (parking lot used for Pooch Park).  Currently dogs/pets are NOT allowed in District parks with these four exceptions.  This has been the situation at George St. Parkway also; although the ordinance may have habitually been violated.

Last fall, issues and altercations were cropping up; some dog on dog and neighbor on neighbor.  As a result some residents have received citations for ordinance violations.

Mr. Ohrlund stated that a group prepared a petition to “exclude George Street Parkway from the Village of Skokie Ordinance 18-37”.  This petition has not been presented to the Park District Board as it was hoped that the situation could be resolved among the neighbors. The group also went to the Village of Skokie Health Department/Animal Control and the Village was not willing to selectively enforce the ordinance.

This dog owner group has met with me to air their concerns. Tonight’s meeting is an attempt to hear from the neighbors of George St.; dog owners and not, to air opinions and issues. Mr. Ohrlund reported that 3-4 neighbors contacted him recently and all said they prefer to leave existing ordinances in place.

Jim Hosfield said he grew up in Skokie, lived in his current house for 10 years, always had dogs and never had issues for 9 years.  He said he was bitter with Skokie (Village) now for the way he was treated by the animal control employees.    He felt harassed during a confrontation with the animal control officer.  She told him she knows about the issues in the park and she’s “going to put a stop to them”.  Mr. Hosfield said he loves Skokie and people shouldn’t be treated like that.  He said his dogs have never had issues and now the park is being patrolled constantly.

The park used to be a gathering place for the neighbors, kids and their dogs and now neighbors are afraid to use it.  Mr. Hosfield said he doesn’t use the park every day and he is not looking to bend the rules. He said he always takes care of the park and picks up litter which he will not do anymore.

Steven Fritzshall said he does not own a dog but feels that dogs are fantastic and a pleasure to have around.  He is not sure what the incident everyone is talking about because it seems that everyone gets along.  The incident has sucked the spirit out of the park. He encouraged the Park District to consider the uniqueness of the park when making their decision.

David Zuperhu said he does not own dogs but has no issues with dogs. It seems to Mr. Zuperhu that all dog owners are considerate and he never feared any of the dogs. He hopes the Park District considers lifting the ban of leashes because one day he may own a dog.

Kristyna Aghai said she has lived in her house since 1996.  Her husband and she are always cleaning up the park and now it is very upsetting that all of the sudden they can’t cross the park with their leashed dogs.  She said she approached the animal control officer to have a conversation and was threatened that the officer said she was going to call the police because she said she was being harassed by Ms. Aghai.

Richard Witry referenced a letter that he wrote to Director Ohrlund proposing that the Park District issue permits to individuals allowing dogs in the park.  It seems that the complainer doesn’t want access to the park but wants to keep everyone away from it. The incidents have caused issues between neighbors and with the Village.  The Village is being heavy handed dealing with this issue.  He said he knew of no incidents for the last 40-50 years.  This park is unique and is not a lure to children because there is no play apparatus. He encourages the Park District to exercise discretion and issue permits; the park has always been a haven for neighbors and dogs.

Mark Winston said he agrees with everyone, it is a unique park and everyone always got along.

Jerry Glunz said the park drew him to the neighborhood and that’s how he met all his neighbors.  This is a shame and it is dampening the mood of the whole neighborhood.

Gina DiBenedetto said she had two dogs but one became ill and had to be put to sleep recently.   She is a pre-school teacher and has lived in the neighborhood for a year. She stated that her dogs are always leashed.

Ms. DiBenedetto said she is the neighbor that caused the incident everyone is referring to.  She said she only called animal control to get information, advice and what the rules are regarding dogs in the park.  The incident just escalated.  Her dogs are pit bulls and can get aggressive if dogs run up to them.  Since other neighbors have their dogs off leashes and ran up to her dogs, the dogs developed displaced aggression. She said felt threatened by the neighbors in many ways to the point that she put up cameras at her house.  She said she called the police several times because she felt afraid in her own house.

Ms. DiBenedetto said this all escalated and all she ever asked of her neighbors was to keep their dogs on a leash.  She hasn’t walked around the neighborhood since November.  She feels that the neighbors can let their dogs off leash in their own yards or use the Park District Pooch Park. She said many neighbors don’t talk to her as a result of this issue. She encourages the Park District to enforce regulations that the dogs be on a leash, otherwise put a fence around the parkway.

Jim Hosfield took issue with some of Ms. DiBenedetto’s comments.  He said he has many police, firemen and park district employees as friends, loves the neighborhood and takes care of the park all the time.

A neighbor (name not given) said that she has smaller children and her neighbor with pit bulls put up a 5 foot fence so her family doesn’t feel threatened by the pit bulls.  It is not right to let dogs run around without leashes because there will be people that have pit bulls that can’t take their dogs off the leashes.

David Zuperhu said he has been in the neighborhood for 30 years.  People are not proposing for dogs to run without leashes.  He believes the neighborhood dogs are socialized and kids and dogs play together all the time.  There is a very strong communal spirit. He said that if someone has an aggressive dog, he feels it is the responsibility of the owner to take care of their dogs. Mr. Zuperhu said it is not fair to the community that this is all changing after 30 years.  The neighbors take care of the park and pick up after the kids that leave cans and bottles.

John Flakne said he is the oldest living resident at 49 years and he feels having dogs serves a social purpose.

After everyone had a chance to speak, Mr. Reid thanked the citizens and assured the people that he will take this back to the Park Board and have a discussion with the Village as well and try to come up with something to solve the issues.

Mr. Reid adjourned the meeting at 5:30 pm.

 

________________________________                 _______________________________

Michael Reid                                                                 John V. Ohrlund

President                                                                       Secretary