Council chambers were standing room only for Monday afternoon’s special council meeting to consider lifting the downtown dog ban.
About 50 people crowded into the public gallery to hear a half dozen stakeholder groups to speak on the issue. After about 75 minutes of presentations, Councillor Deb Kozak put forward a motion asking the issue be referred to the next regular meeting for further discussion by councillors. But that motion failed to find a seconder, which means it “dies on the floor” without discussion or a final vote. No further motions were proposed.
Kozak, who hoped to see the ban lifted on a trial basis for six months beginning this spring, was shocked she couldn’t get another councillor on the bandwagon.
“I think we could have learned a lot more if [the trial period] had happened,” she said. “I’d hoped council would have had a little more faith and confidence in the support of the business community and rest of community to make a positive change.”
During the meeting, Jocelyn Carver spoke for the Nelson Business Association, explaining that 109 or 124 businesses surveyed thought allowing dogs on Baker Street was a good idea.
“Businesses are frontline of what’s happening in the downtown core because they’re there everyday,” Carver told council. “Rather than constantly reiterate to tourists and citizens that Nelson is not pet friendly, we can take a best practices approach to animal control in the core.”
Kozak echoed that sentiment, saying there needs to be a cultural shift about what it means to be a good pet owner and that having dogs downtown would open up that discussion.
But there are costs involved with changing the bylaw. Frances Long, manager of legislative services, said it would take about a week to prepare the bylaw amendments.
Nelson public works operations manager Jim Dinwoodie said if one city employee is spending 30 minutes per day cleaning up dog droppings downtown — which is what they do for the lakeside dog trails — that adds up to about $10,000 per year. And it takes time away from other projects.
“While picking up after the dogs, we can be fixing the potholes or mowing the grass in parks,” Dinwoodie said.
He also said providing the biodegradable bags for pet owners isn’t cheap. Part of the proposal of allowing dogs downtown would have included buying and installing four bag dispensers at a cost of $330 each and the biodegradable bags that cost $70 for a stock of 2,000 bags.
Carver said business owners had offered to clean the sidewalks outside their shops. But Mayor John Dooley said those type of promises don’t always last.
“When we created the dog walk [on the west waterfront], people said they would take care of it and we know how that turned out. It’s disgusting down there,” Dooley said. “Many businesses don’t even shovel their sidewalks. Are they really going to pick up after dogs?”
Joan Reichardt of the Nelson’s Seniors Coordinating Society said some seniors she spoke to raised concerns about being tripped by dog leashes or intimidated by aggressive dogs.
Nelson police and bylaw officers told council that despite the common perception that they don’t enforce the downtown dog bylaw, they do in fact talk to several people per day about the dog bylaw, though they rarely write tickets because they don’t see many re-offenders bringing their dogs back downtown after they’ve been warned.
Nelson Police Department Insp. Paul Burkart suggested that if the downtown dog ban were lifted, bylaw and police officers could zero in on problem dog owners whose pets are poorly trained or walking off leash, rather than trying to get every dog out of downtown.
“It’s all education,” Burkart said. “The bylaw to ban dogs was created for a small percentage of dog owners, which may not be fair to all the other responsible dog owners.”
Burkart asked that a few additional restrictions be considered if dogs were to be permitted in the core, including a limit on leash length, adding a two dog limit and not allowing street performers to have a dog with them. He didn’t request additional fines for bylaw violations, saying most of the necessary deterrents are already in place.
Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson said he believes the dog bylaw isn’t having a dramatic impact on tourism, but that it wouldn’t hurt to allow dogs downtown.
“There are way bigger issues affecting our tourism,” he said. “I would like to see it changed, personally, and a lot of businesses — especially the dog-friendly hotels — would like to see it changed … But we’ve found ways to deal with it. We point tourists to the places they can walk their dog and allow them to leave their pets at the visitor centre if they want to go downtown without fear of running into a bylaw officer.”
Diana Ducs, executive director of Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism, also supported lifting the bylaw, pointing out that few other municipalities have downtown dog bylaws and there’s concern with leaving pets in cars in the summer.
Three members of the public also spoke against the bylaw change.
Councillor Candace Batycki had supported holding the special meeting and was initially in favour of the trial period. But she said after hearing the costs and receiving numerous emails from residents who want the bylaw to remain in place, she didn’t want to be the one to second Kozak’s motion.
Still, she was surprised that no one else around the table offered to second it.
“It’s not the outcome I would have predicted,” she told the Star. “This is an issue that’s split right down the middle, in terms of what the public want, and it’s a difficult one to balance. Because there’s no clear right answer, I felt it was better to leave it as it stands.”
Councillor Donna Macdonald had similar opinion.
“I didn’t see any urgent reason to do this right now,” she said, explaining the change to the bylaw was ranked a medium-priority at council planning meetings and there are high-priority issues that should be dealt with first. “Nothing’s really changed in terms of those priorities. We can look at this again when it’s time has come and maybe there will be a different outcome.”
Discussion around the dog bylaw will return to council when the animal control bylaw comes up for review, possibly later this year. However, it won’t be in time to run the trial period this year, as Councillor Kozak and members of the business association had hoped.
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