Temporary off-leash dog park a possibility for University Place pet owners

University Place dog owners may have a temporary place to run their dogs while they wait to see if Pierce County builds a permanent off-leash park at Chambers Creek Regional Park.

But the city must approve changes to its development code before owners can unleash their four-legged companions.

Ron Messenger, owner of New Tacoma Cemetery, offered part of the cemetery property off Chambers Creek Road West to SUNDogs, a group of pet owners pushing for a permanent off-leash space at Chambers Creek. The cemetery is roughly a mile from the current off-leash park.

The dog park at Chambers Creek will close next week so officials can prepare for this summer’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

When Messenger heard the county might not reopen the dog park later this year, he wanted to help.

“I just thought it’d be a good community service effort,” he said. “There’s some acreage out there that is not being used.”

Messenger, who regularly brings his golden retriever to work, offered to lease part of his land to SUNDogs for $1 a year. The off-leash park would be on undeveloped land near the pet cemetery.

SUNDogs members toured the site and contacted UP officials about building the temporary dog park on 4 acres. The city’s zoning doesn’t allow that use in the residentially zoned area, but UP Development Services Director David Swindale said it should.

The city’s planning commission agreed Wednesday night to discuss allowing parks of up to 5 acres in the city’s lowest-density residential zone without a conditional-use permit.

The change would be part of a larger update the city of 31,000 is making to its comprehensive plan. Swindale hopes to bring the update, including the section that would allow the dog park, to the commission this summer. The UP City Council will make a final decision later this year.

Until the council decides, SUNDogs will have to wait.

If Pierce County opts not restore the off-leash area at Chambers Creek following the U.S. Open, dog owners could be without a place to run their pets.

The Central Meadow dog park location, which has always been temporary, will close March 16 as part of the preparation for the June 15-21 golf championship.

Dog owners believed the off-leash park would reopen after the tournament and stay open until Pierce County identified and developed a permanent location. But county officials have not committed to bringing back the dog park, unlike other public areas of the 930-acre property that the USGA will restore following the tournament.

“It’s something that we’re still considering and are going to have some further discussion with stakeholders in the community about what we’re going to do,” said Tony Tipton, Pierce County Parks and Recreation director.

This uncertainty is what persuaded SUNDogs members to take Messenger up on his offer. They are grateful but also worried that it could send the wrong message to county officials.

“Our top property still remains getting a permanent site on the Chambers Creek Properties,” said Debbie Klosowski, SUNDogs member.

Dog owners “made it very clear people really like walking the trails at Chambers Creek Properties and being able to go directly into the dog park there,” the former UP mayor and councilwoman said.

SUNDogs members continue to cite a 2007 Chambers Creek Properties master site plan that calls for a permanent off-leash area on the county-owned property. They had hoped for a space larger than the Central Meadow site, but a preliminary agreement with a California developer to build a 220-room hotel and 18-hole golf course on the southern part of the property may leave no room for an off-leash area at all, much less the expansion dog owners had envisioned.

Until the issue is resolved, dog owners hope UP approves the code changes to allow the temporary site at the cemetery.

SUNDogs would then finalize a lease with Messenger guaranteeing use of his land for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years. The group has also agreed to purchase and install fencing and supply bags for picking up animal waste. It also would have to adhere to the city’s landscape, parking and signage requirements.