Volume 23, Number 12 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 28 - August 3, 2010
Confusion over the leash law in Battery Park
BY Aline Reynolds
Community members are up in arms about not being able to let their dogs run free in Battery Park. According to some, the city Parks Department recently stepped up enforcement of the rule that prohibits dog owners at Battery Park to unleash their pets in the early morning hours.
“I’m very, very disappointed — I feel like I lost part of my community,” said dog owner Cathy Yee, a Financial District resident who has unleashed her dog on the main lawn nearly every morning for two years. Last Saturday, an officer approached Yee for the first time.
“There was a lot of confusion,” said Yee. “All of a sudden, they were kicking us out of this park.”
Yee is a member of the Downtown Dog Owners Association, which is protesting the rule, asserting that allowing their dogs to run free is beneficial to the animals and unites community members.
The group formed in late-June, shortly after the Battery Park Conservancy started handing out flyers about the law, according to Kathleen Daly-Crum, one of the group’s founders. Yee and other members of the group showed up at Community Board 1’s July 7 Financial District Committee meeting to voice their concerns.
Following the meeting, C.B. 1 sent a letter to Parks Department, asking them to come to the September committee meeting to discuss the matter.
“We’d like to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” said Ro Sheffe, the committee chair. He and other C.B. 1 members are confused, since the Parks Department told them it was awaiting a recommendation from the committee before re-enforcing the Battery Park dog leash policy. “Right now, we’re operating in an environment where no one really knows what the rules are,” he said.
But the Parks Department said there is no confusion about the law, which was codified back in 2007, shortly after the city’s then Board of Health voted in favor of the informal “courtesy hours” policy, which allowed dogs off leashes in designated areas of City parks between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.
The city subsequently created a list of parks where specified courtesy hours were in place. Central and Riverside Parks are on the list, among 27 others in Manhattan, but not Battery Park.
“While we respect residents’ desire to have off-leash hours in Battery Park, we do not feel it is appropriate at this site,” said Parks Department Press Officer Cristina DeLuca in an e-mail.
Violators of the rule can receive a $100 fine, she added, and signs indicating the rules are posted around the park. Several park-goers say the rule was not implemented though, until recently.
“They’re blindly enforcing a set of rules in a manner that’s inconsistent with what has long been the tradition and understanding,” said C.B. 1 member and Battery Park City Dog Owners Association founder Jeff Galloway.
“We knew there was no enforcement for many years,” said Warrie Price, founder and president of the Battery Conservancy. “Parks told us that they…wanted to start enforcing it. “We felt we’d like our neighbors to be aware of this, so we started notifying people a month before board meeting, she added.
The Association sent a letter to city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe on July 11, asking to reconsider the law as it applies to Battery Park.
The letter stated, “The benefits of an off-leash policy for Battery Park are consistent with those that the Parks Department has seen in other city parks: off-leash play results in less aggressive dog behavior, the parks become safer during off-leash use, and the community is brought together.”
They asked to meet with the Commissioner sometime this month to further discuss, without reply. Benepe declined to comment to Downtown Express on the letter.
“We will attend the [September 1 F.D.C. Committee] meeting, but it is unlikely that we will change the policy,” DeLuca said.
“You want your neighborhood to be hospitable to the kinds of people who have dogs,” said Galloway, who used to unleash his German Shepherd in the park in plain view of the park’s enforcement officers.
“[The officers] would stop and chat with you while you had your dog running around,” he said. “The understanding was that you’d leave the park by 9 a.m.”
Sheffe is still holding out hope the Parks Department will take the community’s concern into account. “This policy should not be thrust upon us. It should be agreed upon by the majority,” he said. “That’s the way a democracy works.”