By LIZ BUTTON
The Rye Town Park Commission has given the City of Rye the green light to craft an ordinance allowing off-leash dogs in the park on a limited basis, according to Republican Deputy Mayor Laura Brett.
The Rye City code states dogs are not allowed to be off their leashes anywhere in the city under any circumstances, but enforcement of the local ordinance, which mirrors state law, has been historically lax and the cause of some friction between residents over the years.
To this end, the Rye City Council has tasked City Attorney Kristen Wilson with drafting a piece of legislation that would allow for unleashed dogs in Rye Town Park during certain early morning hours. Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, has suggested a tentative baseline of before 9:30 a.m.
While the city has the final authority to impose and enforce any new leash law, Brett said, ultimately, it is most important the city collaborates with the Rye Town Park Commission, a governing body which sets policy for the park, to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both entities.
“Over the years, there has been a tremendous amount of tension between people who don’t want dogs in Rye Town Park at all and the people who use Rye Town Park on a regular basis to exercise their dogs,” said Brett who, along with Sack, sits on the Rye Town Park Commission.
Other members of the six-person commission include Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin, a Republican, Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg, unaffiliated, Benedict Salanitro of Rye Neck and Port Chester Mayor Neil Pagano, a Republican.
During the off-season—from mid-September to Memorial Day weekend—and early morning hours, the primary users are those bringing their dogs out to exercise on the 28-acre green, Brett said.
The park is jointly owned and operated by the city and Rye Town, but located within the city’s boundaries along Forest Avenue.
“It’s part of why they enjoy living in Rye,” said Brett, who reported the commission’s request to the Rye City Council.
In 2011, Sack, a member of the commission at the time, along with then Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, was outvoted 3 to 2 by members of the park commission on a measure that would allow dogs to be off their leashes from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., when the park officially opens for the day.
Brett said she also proposed a similar initiative to the Rye City Council in 2012 inspired by New York City’s ordinance, which allows owners to unleash their dogs during specific hours in specific areas of Central Park, but the measure was never brought to a vote.
Brett said she thinks Rye can move in the direction New York City has gone and strike a much needed balance for the safety and comfort of non-dog owners as well as the rights of dog owners.
Brett blamed some of the past tension between law enforcement and dog owners at the park on what she called a “lack of clarity [and] inconsistent enforcement.”
There is actually a good amount of uncertainty among residents about whether dogs are allowed to be off-leash in Rye at all, Brett said.
“If we provide everyone with clear guidance on when they can go to the park with a dog [and let it off its leash,] then those people who don’t like dogs will know that those are hours when they don’t want to go to the park,” she said.
Sack said if the City Council moves in the direction to designate hours in which dogs are permitted off-leash, there should also be even stricter enforcement by Rye police and park staff after those hours.
“I think they go hand-in-hand,” he said.
According to Chapter 76 of the Rye City code, last amended in 2010, those who have violated the leash ordinance will pay a penalty of up to $50. A second violation within a year could be up to $75. If a person commits a third violation within a year, the fine can reach $100.
Councilman Richard Slack, unaffiliated, mentioned one potential issue that might come up as the new law is being drafted; whether the council could or would want to just target Rye Town Park, rather than impose a blanket ordinance that applies to all of Rye’s other public parks as well.
“If it has to be every park, I would have at least some concern about strict enforcement of this kind of a law,” Slack said.“I have heard of a small number of incidents where the laws that exist are trying to be enforced [and] people get belligerent.”
Wilson said she would look at the legal question Slack raised.