By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite vocal opposition, plans for a dog park in Coquina Key took a leap forward last week. The city, after a 27-16 vote among residents, has cemented plans to fence in an acre of Coquina Key Park by February.
A water fountain, picnic shelter and landscaping will go in for good measure. By agreeing to the park, the neighborhood adds itself to a growing list of places in the bay area where neighbors can unleash their pets within confined areas.
"They get twice the exercise of being pulled on a leash," said sales representative Susan Macmurphy, 44, whose 5-year-old beagles, Brooke and Jack, are primed for play. "They get to be frivolous and see their friends."
The parks give dogs and people a social outlet and increase community spirit, some neighbors at Tuesday's meeting said. It's a popular sentiment. Dogs now run free in 474 parks nationwide, according to a press release at http://www.dogpark.com. The Web site touts canine camaraderie as wholesome, if not always cheap. At the site's online store, you can get a "Glow-in-the-Park Leash" for $25, or a "Pearls-for-Dogs Collar" for $150.
"It's going to happen in every community," said Cliff Footlick, a park operations manager who presented the plan to the Coquina Key Civic Association. Sarasota County already has two dog parks. Manatee has one called Happy Tails.
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco recently helped neighbors on Davis Islands come to agreement about their dog park, and announced tentative plans for three more in the city.
Officials are sniffing out similar sites in Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs.
Local dog owners have one official meeting place: an unfenced area at Fort DeSoto across from North Beach. Closer to town, North Shore Park has served as an unofficial dog park.
City officials look on Coquina Key as a test case: If this one works, there could be at least three more coming.
The plan calls for a 6-foot-high chain-link fence on a parcel between a lagoon and the St. Pete Skate Park, another recent experiment. The ramps and U-shaped platforms favored by young skaters replaced a pair of tennis courts. A sign at the entrance to the skate park forbids vandalism and alcoholic beverages -- problems in the park up to now.
"People have said they felt unsafe in the park, that there was not adequate security," said association (and dog park committee) president Bob Funari, 43, who runs a nursery for the county parks department.
But the thought of using public park space to benefit dogs turned off some neighbors.
"Why can't they go to their houses? Don't congregate in my back yard," said Arthur Jones, 51, a carpentry subcontractor who for 20 years has lived next to the park at 333 Kingfish Drive SE. Jones said he worries about traffic, child safety and dog droppings that are not picked up.
Board member Ed Lawrence, a development director at St. Petersburg Junior College, also opposes the park.
"We had a vote that was 27 to 16, out of what -- 1,100 homes?" Lawrence said. "And another 5,000 in apartments who are also eligible to vote. This was not representative."
The Coquina Key Civic Association also honored longtime board member Joe Manko, 78, who has cleaned the association's swimming pool -- as a volunteer -- every day for the past 40 years.
No other neighborhood association has its own swimming pool. The original developer, named Mackle (think Elkcam Drive, spelled backward), offered the budding association property and labor in 1960 to build a clubhouse and pool at 3850 Pompano Drive SE.
Manko, a former insurance sales representative, checked chlorine levels daily and cleaned debris from what is, as of Tuesday, the Joe Manko Pool.
With one hand holding a pipe, the other a cane, Manko waved off mention of the bronze plaque bearing his name that will hang by the pool.
"I'm embarrassed," he said. "They shouldn't have done it."
Greater Woodlawn is looking for financial support for the brick roundabout scheduled for construction in the spring. So far, 140 engraved bricks have been sold for contributions of $20 each. Workers will lay the brick into a pathway within a circular brick intersection at 12th Street and 26th Avenue N, the result of a neighborhood partnership grant. Final ordering date for an engraved brick is Dec. 25. For more information, call Randall Conley at 821-4437 or Mike Palozzi at 895-4718.
BIG BAYOU: 7 p.m. Monday. Trinity United Methodist Church, 2401 Fifth St. S. Open forum.
HISTORIC KENWOOD: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Albright United Methodist Church, 2750 Fifth Ave. N. Speaker: Mayoral candidate Rick Baker on the history of St. Petersburg. Holiday potluck dinner.
SNELL ISLE: 7 p.m. Thursday. St. Petersburg Woman's Club, 40 Snell Isle Blvd. Holiday social, special presentation by American Stage Company.
Call Andrew Meacham at 865-3885. Or send him a notice at P.O. Box 1185, St. Petersburg, FL, 33731. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.