The grass is always greener on the other side of the dog park. Or at least it will be once the modifications to the Posse Grounds dog park expansion that the Sedona City Council approved on Jan. 10 go into effect.
The council had decided in September that the proposed surfacing material for the extension area would be decomposed granite for environmental and financial reasons. However, on Dec. 13, Vice Mayor Holli Ploog, supported by Councilwoman Kathy Kinsella, requested that the council reconsider the planned surfacing material.
“I do not have confidence that where we left things at our last meeting was leaving a surface that was going to actually be utilized in the long run,” Kinsella said, making the case that the expanded area of the dog park should be surfaced with grass rather than decomposed granite or artificial turf. “We thought we really need to have another discussion on where this could go in terms of making this a responsive amenity that will be well-utilized.”
“Subsequent to Dec. 13, I visited the Yappy Hour and talked to folks there, and synthetic grass is not a material they would be happy with, nor is it a material our staff would be happy with that,” Ploog added.
“Synthetic grass is a nonstarter,” City Manager Karen Osburn explained to the council. The city staff estimated that the cost of installing 7,000 square feet of artificial grass in the pilot area of the extension would be $140,000, and that the “intensive maintenance requirements” for it in the long term would be prohibitively costly.
“It seems the users prefer a natural grass surface,” Osburn continued. “That was what we had originally proposed, but given the additional approximately 3 million gallons of water usage it would require to maintain that surface, it was previously decided that we would go with a DG-type of surface.”
Given the strong desire for a natural grass surface expressed by users, Osburn suggested that the city could find a way to install grass “without using one drop of additional water. No net increase to any of the water usage that we have today.”
Several council members expressed doubt over the proposed water requirements for a grass surface.
“I still am concerned about 3 million gallons of water a year,” Councilman Pete Furman said. “That just doesn’t strike me as something that our ethics want to promote.” He also noted installing irrigation in the area of the dog park would be difficult with bedrock close to the surface.
“It is very sobering thinking about committing to a 3 million gallon usage of water,” Councilman Brian Fultz agreed. He commended city staff for trying to find ways to achieve no net increase in usage.
Mayor Scott Jablow observed that he had originally opposed a grass surface given the expected water requirements, but that if city staff could achieve net zero usage, “I can change my opinion.”
“Trading use isn’t the goal of conservation and responsible water use,” Councilwoman Jessica Williamson said. “Without grass, you would be saving [3 million] gallons.”
“Maybe we let the dogs vote,” Furman remarked. He suggested that the city install grass on half the surface and then “observe for a period of time and see what the dogs actually want and what the people want.”
“I would like to see us do better than no net gain in water use,” Furman added.
Jim Gale, of West Sedona, offered a similar argument during the public comment period.
“I think that we should think about our ethics here,” Gale told the council. “You’re no different than the governors of all the Western states. The Colorado River is drying up; 3 million gallons for dogs that for hundreds of thousands of years romped … we’re using way too many resources … I think we need to think first about people. We live in the desert, so we need to mimic the environment of the desert.”
“No net increase is not sufficient because we’re already using too much,” Gale finished.
As the discussion proceeded, council and staff realized that the 3 million gallons of usage in the agenda referred to the calculated usage for a grass surface that would cover the entire 20,000-square-foot area of the extension, not the 7,000- square-foot pilot area. On that basis, the water usage for a grass surface on the pilot area would consume about 1 million gallons per year.
After making an initial motion to reconsider the previous decision, Kinsella proposed opening the dog park extension with a temporary sand surface, with the expectation that a grass surface would be installed later. Kinsella’s motion added the requirements that the city achieve a net decrease in water usage, that Yappy Hour continue at the softball field until grass is installed, and that any other changes be brought back to council for approval. Kinsella changed “sand” to “composite surface” after discussion.
Furman remarked that he was not comfortable setting a requirement for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining a much lower bar for water usage reductions. Kinsella asked him if he would be comfortable with a 10% decrease in water usage.
“No,” Furman replied.
Ploog seconded the motion after Kinsella formally offered it, and Jablow joined them in supporting it, but the motion failed 3-4.
Furman then moved to install dual surfaces at the extension area and reconsider the matter in two years based on usage. He received no support for this motion and withdrew it.
Kinsella responded to Furman’s concerns by submitting her motion again and changing the requirement for no net increase in water usage to “a 20 percent decrease in city water use.” Furman seconded this motion. Ploog clarified that the baseline for determining this water savings would be park-related water usage only, not city-wide water use. Kinsella accordingly rephrased the motion to refer to recreational water use.
Kinsella’s final motion to use a composite surface temporarily until grass is installed in the pilot area passed the council 6-1, with Williamson dissenting.
How Much is that Dog Park?
The city of Sedona spent $27,433 on the dog park in Fiscal Year 2011. In FY 2014, it budgeted $5,000 for new gazebos and picnic tables. The city’s FY 2016 budget included spending of $18,120 in that year and $152,510 in the coming fiscal year for dog park upgrades, while the 2017 budget increased the dog park spending allocation to $203,010.
The FY 2018 budget specified $292,983 for dog park improvements, which included carryover from previous years. It also projected an additional $330,000 in spending for more improvements in FY 2024. The future years’ estimate increased to $360,000 in the FY 2019 budget. On Sept. 13, 2022, the city voted an additional $155,000 in funding to expand the area of the dog park.
The city’s total budgeted spending on the dog park through FY 2024 comes to $807,983. In addition, dog enthusiasts raised $37,000 toward the park’s construction in FY 2015.
According to city communications manager Lauren Browne, actual costs so far have been $346,500. The original buildout cost $279,200, which was split between $37,600 in design costs and $241,600 in construction costs, while the latest expansion cost $67,300.