While a flurry of unanswered questions still swirls around the future of a public dog park in Bluffton, one thing is now certain: The facility will be housed at the town’s Oscar Frazier Park.
Despite past opposition from residents in the nearby Bluffton Park neighborhood — who worried the dog park would create noise and odor issues and make it dangerous if aggressive dogs got loose — members of Bluffton Town Council vowed unanimously Tuesday to support construction on a roughly 1-acre parcel at Oscar Frazier Park.
“I feel very good that a majority of Bluffton Park is happy” with the chosen location, Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said at a town workshop Tuesday.
But questions of when the park will be built, what features it might include, how much construction and maintenance will cost, and who will pay for it remain up in the air.
Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks, a local nonprofit group, has been working for more than a decade to raise awareness and money — to the tune of roughly $53,000 to date — to get a park built.
The group’s treasurer Diana Radcliffe told town leaders Tuesday that local dog lovers are “waiting anxiously for the park” and hope “to make this year the year of the dog park.”
While town leaders voiced support for the project, some said getting it built this year may be overly ambitious.
“I don’t know if $53,000 is enough to pay for the dog park,” town manager Marc Orlando said.
If it isn’t, “where are we going to find the money?” he asked rhetorically.
While town leaders have identified construction of the dog park as a priority, no public money has been earmarked for the project.
If the park were to be built this year and taxpayer funds were needed, Orlando said that could result in a host of planned and ongoing projects — Town Hall renovations, streetscape improvements, parking lot additions, sanitary sewer installations — being postponed.
Sulka said, “we may have to make some hard choices” during the town’s February budget and strategic planning retreat.
The council may have to decide whether using public money for the dog park “is important enough for council to move up” on its priority list, she said.
Despite no promises from council on funding, Radcliffe said Tuesday’s decision would be helpful because potential Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks donors will be more willing to open their wallets if they know specifically where the park will be.
Beaufort County leaders rejected a 2014 plan to build the park on a site at the Buckwalter Regional Park after neighbors complained about noise and engineers deemed the low-lying property a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes.
In the years since, infighting and a board shakeup among the Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks — along with allegations of a lack of communication between the board and town leaders — stymied the group’s progress.
Despite the years of hurdles, Tuesday’s decision to support Oscar Frazier Park as the permanent future home for the dog park was hailed as a step in the right direction by town leaders and group organizers.