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Off-Leash Dog Space Proposed for Santa Barbara’s MacKenzie Park

'Underutilized' section of park would provide an amenity that the neighborhood lacks, many residents say

This ‘under-utilized’ area of MacKenzie Park would be transformed into an off-leash dog park under a plan being considered by the city of Santa Barbara.
This ‘under-utilized’ area of MacKenzie Park would be transformed into an off-leash dog park under a plan being considered by the city of Santa Barbara. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
Dogs are not allowed off-leash at MacKenzie Park in Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Dogs are not allowed off-leash at MacKenzie Park in Santa Barbara. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Some good news may be on the horizon for Santa Barbara dogs that aren’t fond of having to be constantly tethered to their owners.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has conceptual plans on the table for an off-leash dog area in MacKenzie Park, located along Upper State Street at the top of Las Positas Road.

The department reported in a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Commission last week that there has been public demand for additional off-leash areas in the city, and the corner of the park under consideration — wedged between State and the top end of De La Vina Street — is considered underutilized by the city.

After undertaking the Draft Off-Leash Dog Areas Feasibility Study, the department is proposing half an acre of the 9½-acre MacKenzie Park for the off-leash space, which would consist of a just-under 0.3-acre fenced-off space for big dogs and a just-under 0.2-acre fenced-off space for small dogs, said Kathy Frye of the department’s project management team.

“There is a separation between large and small dog areas, and this will help deter large dogs chasing small dogs, as sometimes there can be a predator–prey response where a large dog will see a small dog as prey,” she told the commission.

The proposal would also include benches, drinking fountains for both owners and dogs, and double-gated entries, as well as landscaping work and an improved park plaza on the State Street side.

The youth activities building there would also be demolished, Frye said, because it no longer meets seismic standards and has not hosted any programming for over a decade. The department found that retrofitting it would be prohibitively expensive.

The Lemus Memorial, intended to provide shade and seating for a playground that’s been moved to a different part of the park, will potentially be relocated as well.

Further developing the conceptual plans for the dog park would cost $50,000, she said, and the estimated price tag to take the project through construction would be $315,000.

A survey sent out to the neighborhood returned mostly positive results, Frye said.

Many residents had favorable impressions of the preliminary designs, and appreciated having a space to meet their neighbors and let their dogs off their leashes.

Twenty-six people attended an on-site community meet earlier this month to learn about the project’s conceptual plans.

“The primary concerns were related to the potential impacts from noise from barking dogs and increased parking impacts on neighboring residential streets,” Frye said.

“Streets in the area are impacted by parking demands from the commercial areas of De La Vina Street, and particularly Trader Joe’s,” she said.

Though they were not scheduled to give the proposal the thumbs up or down, the four commissioners who were present appeared to range from undecided to enthusiastically supportive.

“Although it’s on as an off-leash dog area,” Commissioner Beebe Longstreet said, “I really look at it as a request from the residents of our city. It’s not so much about the dogs, as about the people who live here who own dogs and are asking for a use in our parks.

“It’s nice that it’ll make the dogs happy, but it’ll make the people who own the dogs happy, and our parks are places to socialize and to get outside.”

“It fulfills a need in an area where we don’t have a dog park,” commission chairwoman Lesley Wiscomb added.

After developing more detailed design plans, the project will require a demolition permit and approval from the commission and the Architectural Board of Review.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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