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Petition lands dog park question on Bedford ballot

BEDFORD - After a multi-year effort to establish a dog park in Bedford, the question will finally be put to the voters on the March 12 ballot.

The Town Council voted to include the question in response to a petition signed by more than 50 residents, who called on the council to approve construction at the Nashua Road site and gauge the approval of the voters by putting the question on the ballot.

Voters will be asked if they are in favor of the park, with construction costs covered by a private citizens group. Then decisions will have to be made about whether the town should operate and maintain the park with town money; if the town should operate the park with privately-raised money; or if the park should be privately funded, operated and maintained subject to a lease with the town.

The council held a public hearing on the issue last Wednesday night, where about 10 residents rose to speak in favor of the park.

"The last time I was as here . the majority (of the council) suggested that it would be a good idea to have it on the town ballot to get a sense of what the community wants," said Fred Hurwitz, president of Bedford Canine Corner, the organization formed to fund the dog park.

Hurwitz said though only 50 votes were required to submit the petition, they succeeded in raising 80.

"Whether that's representative of the majority, that's the purpose of the motion we're making," he said.

John Deachman was the only speaker who did not speak in favor of the park. He expressed concern that the petition aims to tell the council what to do.

"It goes directly against the representative form of government that we have," Deachman said. "I think this is improper to even go before the town."

Linda Cagan, a 30-year resident of the town, said she owns three dogs. Though she has plenty of land for them, she noted that it's important for dogs to socialize to prevent them from behaving like a "pack of animals."

"Let's make this a community thing," she said. "Let's all be together on it."

Linda Cammarata berated the council for not being "open and welcoming" at the meeting. "It's taken years to do something that should've been done a long time ago," she said.

Cammarata claimed that she was representing 100-200 people in her support for the park. "Now that we've come this far, way too long, we need to get a pulse on the town."

Following the public hearing, the councilors discussed the issue, most of whom expressed enthusiastic support for the park.

"It's about time that the general public votes and takes a position on it," said councilor Norm Longval, one of the original proponents of the park.

Councilor Chris Bandazian raised the sticky issue of the town manpower the park would require. "How do you take a little piece of everybody when there really isn't anybody to give?" he said.

Bandazian added that the town would need to either add staff or hire contracted labor to maintain the park.

Following a lengthy discussion, the council voted to include the petition on the ballot.

Friends of Canine Corner received council approval in January 2012 to use the 80-foot-by-200-foot parcel of town land on Nashua Road for a dog park. But an agreement on who would be responsible for the park's ongoing maintenance was not reached.

In September, the council met with representatives from the Friends of Canine Corner, asking the group to enter into a lease agreement with the town. Friends of Canine Corner refused, as it did not want to take on any personal liability for the park.

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