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Dog park proposal unleashes controversy

The Palma Ceia Playground is finally getting improvements - but some residents aren't happy with the plan.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 22, 2003

Fresh, brown dirt has replaced the red clay of the baseball diamond. A newly planted oak rises in left center field.

Any day now, dogs will romp where people once played catch.

After three years of waiting, the Palma Ceia Neighborhood Association is finally seeing changes to the long-neglected Palma Ceia Playground, including an area for unleashed dogs in the former ball field.

The 2-acre park has long been a hot spot for dog lovers, but some neighborhood leaders don't like what they see.

"We heard rumors, and I said, "No, this can't be,"' said neighborhood association president Lori Jennis.

A communication breakdown between neighbors may be to blame.

Palma Ceia Playground is a few blocks east of MacDill Avenue in Palma Ceia Park, an area of young families and bright bungalows that is not represented by a neighborhood association. In the spring of 2000, the Palma Ceia Neighborhood Association - which occasionally speaks on behalf of its neighbors to the east - began a push to improve the area.

On its wish list: improved lighting; new playground equipment; and a new bathroom building and rain shelter to replace the one now covered with rust and graffiti.

Not on the list: a dog run.

But that's what the association got after it passed the project to Ana Bowman, a Palma Ceia Park resident who volunteered to take it over.

In April, Bowman led a delegation of residents who met city officials at the park to discuss improvements.

To advertise the meeting, Bowman said she passed out 400 flyers to residents east of MacDill Avenue and gave another to a member of the Palma Ceia Neighborhood Association.

Some 25 families showed up. Many said they like to bring their dogs to the park.

"They were all in agreement ... to create a small dog place," said Wayne Papy, deputy director of the city parks and recreation department.

The department said okay.

Jennis said she didn't find out about the dog run until the tree was planted in the outfield two weeks ago.

Several residents have since sent her angry e-mails, and Bowman isn't returning her phone calls, she said. "I'm so disenchanted," she said.

Bowman said she informed the Palma Ceia Neighborhood Association about the dog run at its meeting a few days after the talk with city officials.

She said association members did not appear to be interested in the project.

"When I talked to (Jennis) about it, it was more a bother to her than anything," Bowman said.

The department agrees with Bowman that the ball field wasn't used much for baseball or softball. But for now, a fence to complete the dog run is on hold.

"It'll go up when we make sure everybody agrees," said department director Ross Ferlita.

Jennis said she plans to get guidance from the neighborhood association at its next meeting on Tuesday.

Bowman said she just wants the park to be ship-shape.

"I'm happy for it not to be a dump anymore, whatever form it takes," she said.

- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com

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