University Place dog owners are at odds with Pierce County about its unwillingness to commit to a permanent off-leash dog park on Chambers Creek Properties, next to Chambers Bay golf course.
Dogs already can run free in a fenced, temporary off-leash area that is just under an acre near the Central Meadow portion of the county-owned property. The county also has set aside the southern end of the beach, which is roughly 10 acres at high tide, as an area where dogs don’t have to be leashed.
But a California developer has proposed to build a second 18-hole golf course and hotel on the southern part of the property, and county leaders say there isn’t enough space for that project and a permanent 5- to 7-acre off-leash park.
“I don’t see how the county can say there is absolutely no room anywhere on the entire 930-acre site for a 5-acre off-leash area,” said Debbie Klosowski of SUNDogs, the group of dog owners pushing for a permanent site.
She noted the beach is not accessible to all dog owners, and not every dog can go off leash near the water.
Dog owners in the group support economic development at Chambers Creek, said Klosowski, a former University Place mayor and council member. But the group also believes the county should uphold its commitment to dog owners.
A 2007 master site plan for Chambers Creek Properties spells out a permanent off-leash dog park would be located on the southern part of the property where the second golf course is now proposed, Klosowski said.
Pierce County officials have a different interpretation of that plan.
“If you go back to the master site plan, it allows for off-leash areas. But it is not the county’s belief that a permanent off-leash area has ever been promised in that master site plan,” said Deputy County Executive Kevin Phelps.
He noted the site plan will have to be updated if the golf course and hotel development moves forward.
The 2007 master site plan mentions off-leash areas 22 times, including general descriptions of how the site will be developed over time. A summary in the plan lists three locations for off-leash areas, including the southern area of the property.
Both sides agree the existing fenced area near Central Meadow is temporary. The dog park will be closed in May 2015 when the United States Golf Association takes over the site for the U.S. Open.
Dog owners have always known the park would close, and they support the golf tournament, Klosowski said. Their fear is that the dog park will not reopen after the U.S. Open ends next summer. Previously they believed the dog park would reopen after the tournament and stay open until a permanent location was identified and built.
Phelps acknowledged their fears could come true, if Los Angeles developer Bob Sonnenblick’s plans are accepted.
If the Sonnenblick development doesn’t move forward, the county would restore the dog park after the Open and likely expand it, Phelps said — but it would still be considered temporary.
“It’s impossible to know the needs for the site 10 to 20 years from now,” he said. “We don’t want to forgo options to develop in light of a dog park.”
The county entered into a preliminary agreement with Sonnenblick Development in February. Initial plans call for a 220-room hotel and 18-hole course. Eventually, Sonnenblick said he wants to build a retail and restaurant pavilion near the waterfront.
When the preliminary agreement with Sonnenblick was announced, Phelps said in an interview with The News Tribune the county “is diligent in that we still want to have open space, recreation, trails and off-leash areas.” Those amenities are “musts,” he said at the time.
The county still feels that way, Phelps said. But after reviewing the available land and the amount of space needed to build the golf course, officials determined there isn’t room for everything.
“It’s not that the county isn’t supportive of the SUNDogs organization and their desire to have multiple options for off-leash areas,” Phelps said. “We just unfortunately may be in a situation of having competing visions for Chambers Bay.”
The county is committed to keeping the off-leash area on the beach, Phelps said, and has talked with University Place officials and Sonnenblick about building an off-leash area elsewhere in the city. Phelps also noted there is a large off-leash park not far away, at Lakewood’s Fort Steilacoom Park.
Because the site is inside University Place city limits and would require city permits, the county has talked with city leaders about the plans.
City Manager Steve Sugg was noncommittal about choosing between a development and a dog park.
“Until I have a real proposal to react to, it’s impossible for us to be able to say we would approve A or B,” Sugg said in an interview. “We simply don’t have enough information at this point to make a decision that would require a change” from the status quo.
SUNDogs members have appealed to Sonnenblick, a dog owner whose company profile lists his pet Peaches as “director of strategic planning and adorable snouts.”
Klosowski and SUNDogs president Bill Long wrote Sonnenblick a letter. They penned it under the aliases of their dogs — Maggie the Springer Spaniel and Holly the Yellow Lab — and they asked Peaches to put in a “good bark” with Sonnenblick to include an off-leash area in his plans.
According to Klosowski, Sonnenblick was initially enthusiastic but later called back to say any discussions would have to happen with county officials. Sonnenblick could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Dog owners who regularly visit Chambers Creek Properties say not having an off-leash park in the Chambers Creek area would hurt the community they’ve built over the years.
“The golfers have their golf course, the joggers have their trails, the beach people have the beach. We want a place to come down and enjoy our best friends,” said UP resident Byron Debban who owns a poodle named Caesar. “We’re just asking for a foothold in this massive development.”