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Lisa Clutters presents her proposal for Happy Tails Dog Park to the Belmont selectmen.

August 19, 2009
BELMONT — In her third trip before the Belmont selectmen, Lisa Clutters was told she has more work to do to get approval for the construction of an off-leash dog park on town land.

Clutters last met with the board in September of 2008 with a pitch for Happy Tails Dog Park. Her concept is to construct a two-acre park with six-foot fencing, parking and restrooms where dogs and their owners could enjoy off-leash time, something Clutters says is not available in many places in the Lakes Region. Similar parks in Raymond, Portsmouth, Nashua and other towns in the southern portion of the state have been met with great success, she said, and claimed that building one in Belmont would have many benefits for the town. Among those listed in her Power Point presentation were socialization opportunities for dogs and their owners and a safe place for canines to exercise without hazards like broken glass, nails or cans found along the roads.

A dog owner herself, Clutters said her pet was dear to her heart and that, "Like a child, I want a safe place for him to be where he would have fun."

Off-leash dog parks, she said, can also generate money. Realtors, her presentation claimed, are finding off-leash dog parks as a good selling point, which translates into more occupied houses and therefore more tax dollars in a town. Parkgoers are also likely to spend money after leaving the park. Stops for doggie sundaes from Jordan's Ice Cream, take-out pizza from local restaurants, or quick purchases at local stores would benefit local businesses.

The park would have strict rules and requirements before an owner would receive a swipe card to gain access. Each pet would have to be licensed, have no previous history of aggression and take part in a mandatory training class lead by a Certified Animal Behaviorist. Waivers releasing the town of any liability would also have to be signed and placed on file.

"We want to do this on town property," Clutters said, "because then the town will maintain control of the property. The town can walk in and inspect it unannounced and if there's a problem the ACO (animal control officer) and police would not have to get permission to enter."

The park would be built with rounded corners to prevent aggression among the dogs, have onsite waste stations for owners to clean up after their pets and a stone dust ground cover with Zeolite rocks to reduce odor and the spread of fleas and ticks.

Chairman Ron Cormier told Clutters he would not say he was opposed to the park but he was opposed to her request to use property on Dutile Road. He was strongly against the park being in a residential or rural setting.

"I don't want to be getting 20 phone calls a day complaining about this," he told her.

He and Selectman David Morse suggested she consider bringing her plans to Laconia, which might be more agreeable to such a venture, or even to the state, where perhaps land in an area like Ahern Park might be available.

Cormier was also concerned from a business standpoint that Clutters had no numbers on how much the park would cost. He advised her that as a business she should be aware how much the construction would be to see if it would even be feasible. He asked she come back with actual cost estimates for fencing and other features.

Clutters and Attorney Trisha Morris, who has been working with Clutters on Happy Tails, said that private donations and funds from FEMA or other emergency management agencies might be available. Morris, who resides in Barnstead, said that following last year's tornado an off-leash park in Raymond assisted people by providing a safe place for all sorts of animals left homeless in the disaster. The park received money from FEMA for doing so. Happy Tails would be capable of providing the same assistance in an emergency and therefore might be eligible for some funding.

"It doesn't matter though," said Clutters. "I'm so dedicated to this project that I would put all of my money into it."

Fellow resident and dog owner Donna Cilley spoke out against the proposed park. She called the concept a great dream of Clutters, but the reality of it is the park would be taking taxable land off the books, which made her very concerned. Socialization with pets in Belmont is really not an issue, she stated, as people are out walking their dogs through the Village every day. Belmont, she said, is a rural town. Manchester and other larger cities may have a need for such a park but Belmont, she felt, did not need to build something that may one day end up as an empty fenced-in parcel of town-owned land no longer in use.

Cormier finally referred Clutters to the Conservation Commission if she insisted on having the park in Belmont.

"They have land that I've asked they use for recreational purposes," Cormier said. "Maybe they have a piece of land you might be able to use."

It could not, he stressed, be in a residential or rural setting and further suggested she look at land in commercial and industrial zones along Routes 106 and 140. If she could return with a specific tax map lot number for a parcel that the board approved of she could then present a warrant article for the park to be on town land next March.

"You would have to write a specific statement though," Cormier instructed her. "The article would have to have the lot number and everything in it. Then we'll let the voters decide."

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