New Port Richey City Council voted 4-1 to continue prohibiting dogs from James E. Grey Preserve. Dogs are permitted at Orange Lake Park, pictured, Sims Park, Cotee River Park and the Meadows Dog Park, as well as two nature preserves and two nature parks in the area operated by the county.

NEW PORT RICHEY – City staff didn’t think allowing dog owners to bring their furry friends into James E. Grey Preserve was a good idea last month and that opinion hasn’t changed.

Parks and Recreation Director Elaine Smith reiterated staff’s position on the matter after being directed by City Council to review it again during a discussion at the regular meeting July 16. Once council heard a presentation Aug. 6 and kicked around a few ideas and opinions, the five-member board agreed with staff’s recommendation.

James E. Grey Preserve is the only nature preserve in the city and it is unstaffed. According to Smith, staff only goes to the preserve to open and close gates and when maintenance operations are required. Visitors are not allowed to bring dogs, leashed or unleashed, to any area of the preserve.

The city code permits dogs in Orange Lake Park, Sims Park, Cotee River Park, the Meadows Dog Park and any area where signage is posted indicating that animals are permitted.

As Smith stated last month, James E. Grey Preserve being unstaffed factored into staff’s decision to keep current policy in place. She said that the city contacted Pasco County officials involved with operating Key Vista Nature Park in Holiday. The park, which is also unstaffed, allows guests to bring dogs on a leash no longer than six feet.

“They did express that they’ve had issues with enforcement of dog owners allowing their dogs to run off-leash in that park,” Smith said. “They have received complaints from people that were there without a dog.”

But even though City Council voted 4-1 to continue prohibiting dogs from the preserve last Tuesday, that may change in the future. New Port Richey purchased a 14-acre parcel adjacent to the preserve that will increase the facility’s size from 80 acres to 94.

The staff recommendation is to leave the ban on dogs in the 80-acre Grey Preserve parcel in place, Smith said. Once the additional 14 acres is developed, council could reconsider allowing dogs, only on a six-foot leash and only on a designated trail we would be able to identify, she said.

The 14-acre portion, which will be accessible from Congress Street and include a boardwalk, trails, kayak launch and more, is not expected to be completed until 2021 or 2022. Prior to last week’s regular City Council meeting, the $770,000 phased expansion was discussed during a Capital Improvement Program work session. Included in that work session was an additional $560,000 pegged for upgrades to the Meadows Dog Park.

City staff’s concerns about allowing dogs at the unstaffed preserve combined with the number of other options for dog owners and future facility upgrades was enough to sway City Council.

“There’s $560,000 for fixing up that excuse for a dog park across the river from the Grey Preserve,” Mayor Rob Marlowe said. “The preserve is different in that it’s a nature preserve; it’s the one we’ve got. I don’t have a problem with dogs in any of the other parks, but I think with that one I’m going to side with the majority.”

The four councilmen voting in favor of staff’s recommendation believed the coming upgrades to the dog park combined with allowing dogs in the new 14-acre section of James E. Grey Preserve represented a solid compromise.

“We allow them in the restaurants, but we allow them outside not inside the restaurants,” Councilman Chopper Davis said. “That’s a compromise there and I think this is a compromise.”

The lone nay vote belonged to Councilman Jeff Starkey.

“I disagree. I’ve been to the Grey Preserve several times and it’s not like I’m scaring deer away as I walk through there,” Starkey said. “I feel like a lot of people enjoy exercising with their dogs and I think this limits the access to where someone can bring their dog in and out of the preserve.”

Starkey reiterated an opinion from last month that the city could always reverse course if complaints pour in about inconsiderate dog owners and troublemaking animals.

“I think it’s a bit too restrictive and I’m not going to support the motion, but I value your opinions,” he said.

The $560,000 allocated to improving the Meadows Dog Park comes from the city’s share of Penny for Pasco sales tax revenue. Similar to the James E. Grey Preserve expansion, estimated completion dates for the Meadows Dog Park expansion are in 2021 or 2022. The project includes the removal and replacement of the existing playground, the removal and replacement of the existing shelter, bathroom rehabilitation, trail and path improvements, removal and replacement of the existing fence that is there, and the installation of sod, parking lot improvements and signage improvements.