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November 18. 2012 9:06PM

Bedford council requires lease, ballot question from dog-park group

BEDFORD - If residents want a dog park in Bedford, they'll have to win a vote on the ballot in March, according to a decision made by councilors at a meeting last week.

According to Town Council Chairman Bill Dermody, councilors passed a motion requiring the Friends of the Canine Corner to enter a lease agreement with the town to operate a dog park on land donated by the town on Nashua Road.

After several years scouting a location and fundraising, a difference of opinion over who is responsible for the park's maintenance developed between the town and the Friends of the Canine Corner.

The Friends of Canine Corner received approval in January from the council to use an 80-foot-by-200-foot parcel of land on Nashua Road for a dog park, providing that the construction, monitoring, operation and fundraising be conducted by the group, which began as a town-appointed subcommittee.

The motion also stipulated that a mutually agreeable contract would need to be developed between the town and the Friends.

Town Manager Jessie Levine expressed concern over loss of staff time should the park be overseen by the town, and gave the group three options: either enter into a lease agreement with the town, wait a year to see if staffing levels and workloads change, or submit a petitioned warrant article on the March ballot.

Sandy Lamontagne, a member of the Friends of Canine Corner, said at a Sept. 26 meeting that the group has always been under the impression that the dog park would be a town park. In past years, Lamontagne said, the issue of liability had come up, and the group was clear that it did not want a lease agreement with the town.

"We have never come up with an opinion that it's something we'd even be interested in," she said.

Lamontagne said that exposing a group of volunteers to potential lawsuits was too much for the town to ask.

"Asking private citizens now to take on the liability, it just seems a lot to ask of these volunteers that were solicited by the town to do this in the first place," she said.

Dermody said that putting the park on the ballot is the only option left if residents still want a dog park. Dermody said that even under the direction of former town manager Russ Marcoux there was never an intent to build a dog park in Bedford.

"There was never a motion by the council to say, 'Russ, go build a dog park,' " Dermody said.

Dermody said the council has not withdrawn the use of the property, and can bring the dog park issue to voters in the spring.

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