Aldermen OK contract to build first phase of Sunset Hills’ dog park

Musich questions SHCF’s commitment to raise $65,000 for dog-park project

By Mike Anthony

The Board of Aldermen awarded a contract last week to construct the first phase of a dog park in Sunset Hills.

Aldermen voted 6-2 to award the $284,860 contract to C. Rallo Contracting Co. Inc., which submitted the lowest of five bids. The bids ranged from C. Rallo’s low bid to a high bid of $403,415 from TGB Inc.

Voting to award the contract were Ward 1 Aldermen Richard Gau and Dee Baebler, Ward 3 Aldermen Jan Hoffmann and Kurt Krueger and Ward 4 Aldermen Pat Fribis and Art Havener.

Opposed were Ward 2 Aldermen Tom Musich and Scott Haggerty, who chaired the Nov. 26 meeting in the absence of Mayor Bill Nolan.

As proposed, the dog park will comprise two acres of a four-acre city park at Eddie & Park Road, behind Truman Middle School and across the street from the Courtyards of Sunset Hills residential subdivision. The park has a ball field, and nearby residents, including Musich, have protested the location of the dog park, saying the ball field is used regularly by neighborhood children.

At a Board of Aldermen meeting this summer, resident Tom Lynch represented the neighborhood and submitted a petition with 65 signatures opposing the dog park.

Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Brown and Nolan dispute how much use the ball field receives, with Brown contending the park is one of the least-used in the city.

Sunset Hills and Crestwood partnered to apply for a grant from the Municipal Parks Grant Commission of St. Louis County. The commission earlier this year awarded a $220,039 grant for the first phase of the dog park.

The Sunset Hills Conservation Foundation, or SHCF, initially pledged to raise $50,000 to help fund the project, but last week announced its commitment to fund up to $65,000 for the project. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to increase green space in the city.

To fund all three phases, which are estimated to cost about $783,000, the city will apply for further park grants.

Brown said that conceptual plans for phase two include a restroom and shelter within the dog park. For phase three, conceptual plans include a trail system, playground, shelter and drinking fountains.

During a period for public comment last week, roughly a dozen residents voiced their opposition to the dog park, including Earl Brightup, who urged the board to vote against “this boondoggle.”

“… Just because it can be forced down the throats of our citizens at the expense of a community ball park doesn’t mean that it should be done just to satisfy a few egos. I’d like you to do the right thing and vote this boondoggle into oblivion,” he said. “If a dog park is needed, and I’m not arguing the need or lack thereof, I’m arguing that it should not be on our baseball diamond, the only ball diamond in the city that’s above water. So please vote it down …”

Also opposed to the dog park was Musich’s wife, Dawn.

“… I have an issue with spending $285,000 on a dog park on one end of Eddie & Park and running canned food up to St. Justin Martyr Parish for the poor on the other end of Eddie & Park. I have a dog and love dogs, but I think we need to focus on the needs of humans first,” she said. “I understand that the money is earmarked for the park and not the poor. I get this. But this is what is wrong with our country.

“Can Sunset Hills make a difference and set a precedent for the rest of the nation by giving the money back if a compromise plan prioritizing children and decreasing the expenditure on the park is unattainable? I prefer this choice versus being an accomplice of wasteful spending …”

Brown noted that the dog park is the first phase of a three-phase park project.

“… One thing that’s been misrepresented this entire time is … the park board looked at it as an entire park. We didn’t want to look at it as a dog park. So if you look at the entire conceptual (plan), it’s 780,000-something dollars, but that included multiple phases,” he said. “Phase one was what we were looking for, which was the dog park. So this is a park that contains a dog park …”

At one point, Tom Musich said, “… I love dogs. I am not against dog parks. I think dog parks have their place. However, I don’t think a dog park is a relevant place on Eddie & Park …”

He later raised the issue of the dog park increasing the city’s liability and asked Brown if the city’s insurance premiums would increase.

“… I was talking to several attorneys and they’re all for this dog park because one said, ‘I’ll take care of the people that own the dog,’ and the other one said, ‘I’ll take care of the victim.’ Now, once again, that’s just hearsay,” he said. “However, I want to know how much this is going to cost because that’s an expense that wasn’t identified in the expense column that you handed out.”

Brown replied, “… I did approach our insurance agent. I found out the exact cost, and there is zero increase that the city will bear on this new facility.”

Musich said, “So with the increased liability of having dogs and potential suits regarding that, we aren’t charged any additional funds whatsoever.”

Brown said, “That’s correct. That is what I was told.”

Musich later questioned whether the city had a “firm commitment” from the SHCF.

“… The letter that I read states specifically that they would like to pledge up to $65,000, but we do not have a firm commitment, and that’s the way I read that report.

“So if we don’t get the $65,000 from the conservation foundation, where does that money come from? …”

SHCF Chairman Ron Hack told aldermen the foundation board voted to make the commitment to raise $65,000.

“… Can I guarantee it? I can’t guarantee the sun’s going to rise tomorrow,” he said. “I can guarantee we’re going to use our best efforts to do everything in our power … We’ve used the word ‘commit.’ We’re going to commit. We have committed. We do commit …”

Musich said, “I appreciate your work and I appreciate your letter and I appreciate you being here, Mr. Hack. It’s very kind of you to do this. My only comment is, is that there is no firm commitment.”

Nick Dragan, a member of the SHCF board, said, “…Without any commitment from the city to go forward with a dog park, the conservation foundation raised close to $9,000 specifically for this project. So our commitment has started long before the commitment from the city and the park existed. Secondly, we had a commitment to cover our portion of the planning grant, which was done.

“When we say we will make that commitment, we will make that commitment.”