Fairfield Conservation Commission
18 October 2017; (New Business)
 Open Space Regulations – Review of Current Leash Laws for Town of Fairfield Open Space Areas.
[15 October 2017]
With regard to the Commission’s agenda to review the current leash laws for Fairfield’s (public) Open Space Areas (Wednesday, 18 October ), we take this opportunity to contribute opinion on behalf of our group: Fairfield Beach Access.
While we are sensitive to the horrific—no, sickening—incident that has led to this situation, we ask that the Commission incorporate restraint into what we know as its ordinarily careful and reasoned deliberation: and resist pressure to change or augment the current rules.
It is our position that the rules in their current form are sufficient and clearly written to ensure safety, general order, and respect for others.
Absent, however, is meaningful enforcement of this already-in-place policy.
We contend that acknowledging that there will always be competition within shared public spaces is a necessary framework for a reasoned and balanced approach to resolving any perceived problems.
Our membership advocates a considerate approach that respects the legitimate concerns of, for example, non-dog guardians and other “passive” (non-consumptive) users of public areas; while maintaining recreation zones for families to enjoy responsibly with their dogs. The key is managing those dynamics to accommodate the varying interests and expectations of everyone who visits them throughout the year; and, resisting the tendency to incorporate intolerance as the over-arching theme that frames scrutiny of access to public Open Space Areas in Fairfield for families with dogs.
Among the suggestions we expect the Commission to examine is transitioning the Lake Mohegan Open Space Area to a “leash-only” designation.
We hope that the Commission will use this as a “last option” only.
Because, it is simply not appropriate to lay blame over-broadly, or, to punish un-involved walkers.
Firstly, we contend that whatever the intent, increasing restrictions on families with dogs in this way will merely become a signal that the Town is unwilling to invest effort to resolve problems within the rules as they already exist.
We do not believe that many of the stakeholders would regard that as a positive change.
Additionally, we ask that the Commission carefully weigh expert opinion on this issue: as veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and knowledgeable dog guardians all recognize that leashed dogs are more likely to engage in conflict; and that the resulting “anxiety aggression” as it is known is the opposite of what is desired or expected by leashing. This might inadvertently encourage
even more problems.
Perhaps more importantly, we ask that the Commission consider what the dog guardian community itself needs to acknowledge openly: that there is a subset of our community that simply will not yield to reason, or to rule of law; and who, in some cases, fairly delight in challenging authority. We must acknowledge openly: that on some days, and/or at least in some areas, the “Lake area” is unappealingly out of control… and, by the description of those who dislike dogs, is worsening.
The Commission should engage thought on how to provoke support for the reputation of the “Lake area” for those who are dissatisfied.
For those without dogs, the villains are often used to characterize the whole, and through this, frustration and resentment have continued to escalate. This is a tendency which we caution all in this dialogue must resist, since it is fair to say that there would be many competing stories to tell. That these miscreants—whose resolute determination to remain unfettered by any ordinary responsibility toward others—represent a small minority, does not make the specific problem now less troubling and worthy of action.
Given this reality, we would caution that imposing a “leash-only” designation at the Lake area would needlessly penalize the entirety of dog-guardian community. Moreover, rather than solve problems, we would expect offending walkers that we discuss above to merely dissipate to other places, thus: de-stabilizing more of these public areas Town-wide; while remaining ineffective at impacting those who really do need correcting.
In your review, we ask that the Commission reject suggestions that the dog guardian community can “self police” as folly: such expectations have proven time and again to be unrealistic, disheartening, and more importantly, an inappropriate assignment of responsibility.
Some have described the “Lake area” as transitioning into an unpleasant and even risky place to visit. The entire paradigm of how access is regarded in Fairfield’s public open spaces needs to dramatically improve. This will necessitate a collaborative effort among competing groups that we discuss. Retreating to corners of battle that depart from “NO” will not bring a fair resolution.
It is our opinion, however, that that goal is achievable with judicious energy.
The Commission has no information to support judgement that the current rules are not workable. Before a change in rules is pursued, we feel that the time has come for the Town to acknowledge this problem and to allocate dedicated financial resources for official monitoring of these areas—at the least, on an intermittent and perhaps unpredictable basis—so that the rules already in place are enforced and regarded meaningfully. Per the Town's legislative process, that request must come from the Conservation Commission itself.
Only then: subsequent to review of such exercise, should discussion proceed.
Effort and creative thinking should be focused to resolve technical questions so that this process could be self-funding, or better still, perhaps even revenue-generating, with the purpose of
Addendum/ Additional clarification (December 2017)
[10 December 2017]
Our group is working to drive acceptance that all the stakeholders must bring a willingness to compromise to the discussion, and understand that negotiated changes may need to be made.
However, change, if taken and regardless of form, must fairly accommodate the interests of all.
As such, we condemn as grossly inappropriate, the seemingly single-minded determination to focus the committee’s analysis on imposing a leash-only restriction across ALL of Fairfield’s public open space areas, as a response to perceived problems. This was unexpected, and we contend that incorporating ordinary common-sense reasoning as consideration for integrity of process would immediately preclude this choice.
Moreover, we caution the Committee that this would usurp the authority of the Town’s RTM, which is delineated by §35-12(D) (1999) of the Town Code, “Definition of Public Open Space.” Pursuant to discussion and materials we have already sent to the Commission, we would in this instance immediately seek legislative intervention of the Town’s government.
Our view on a dual-tier resident/non-resident permit fee:
[25 September 2018]
On Tuesday, September 25, the subcommittee of Fairfield’s Conservation Commission will propose a dual-tier permit fee system for walking dogs off-leash in certain public open space properties. Our group denounces this approach, as it is onerous, discriminatory, and fundamentally ill-conceived, and immediately provoking an “us/them” mindset which is socially unappealing and administratively illegitimate.
Our group wishes to swiftly and specifically ensure recognition of our intense opposition to this concept.
It’s simply wrong to assign additional cost burden on “non residents,” as it would be wrong for other townships to impose fees on Fairfield residents for access to public properties within their borders. Where would that unpleasantness end?
Fairfield’s public open space properties represent a broad range of opportunity for passive and even active recreation. Many were financed through arrangements that included state and federal funding. There is no evidence to suggest that they were not meant for favored priority to Fairfield residents.
Our group regards deliberation by this Commission regarding non-residents as “spill over” from “other Towns” as especially counterproductive.
Out-of-town visitors represent an important economic resource to the Town of Fairfield: many travel significant distances to enjoy our public open spaces and Jennings Beach (in the winter months), and often patronize local businesses while visiting. Our group will solicit the influence of the Town’s Chamber of Commerce to resist implementation of such a plan.
A dual-tier resident/non-resident fee would “send a message” that our group does not want to be associated with.
Our position is that the rules in their current form are sufficient and clearly written to ensure safety, general order, and respect for others; however, no meaningful effort has been taken to ensure enforcement.
The Commission has no information to conclude they are not workable. On the basis of legislative integrity, before any change is finalized, we ask that the Town pursue reasonable efforts to specifically establish that no alternative and less restricting policy would realize the same goals.
As such, we request that the Commission forward a budget recommendation to the RTM seeking allocation of resources as an ordinary Town expenditure, for the purpose of monitoring and ensuring compliance with the current rules at the Lake Mohegan property for a reasonable study period.
[Update: April 2019] The subcommittee has issued it’s “final report,” without acknowledgement of our request, or, of the issue in general.
[Update: November 2018] The Commission has scheduled presentation of their 2019-2020 fiscal year budget request (07 November 2018). We have previously submitted a letter to certain RTM representatives and to the First Selectman, encouraging the Commission to add a request, specific to the issue of repair of public open space properties: challenging the subcommittee’s persistently imbalanced discussion which assigns responsibility for damage as seemingly exclusive to dogs.
Conservation Commission: “Pay to Play”
At the Commission’s 06 March 2019 meeting the subcommittee chair summarized the group’s deliberations, bringing forward its recommendation to implement its (quote) “pay for play” permit system.
The described plan would revoke off-leash access for all but 4 of the Town’s public open space areas, with interest to additionally limit the overall number of the fee-based ($50 or $100-per-dog) walking permits for those remaining 4 parcels. The program would be integrated into a broader revision of the Town’s management plan for the open space areas, with the initial focus on analysis of the Lake Mohegan property specifically, pursuant to review by an outside contractor.
The Commission continues to acknowledge that they do not have information as to usage of the open space areas.
For nearly ten years, Fairfield Beach Access has been asking the Town’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) to properly assert their legislative authority for review of actions taken by the Conservation Commission, with respect to the latter’s own presumed and singular authority to promulgate rules for “management” of public
open space areas. The Commission, by the end of 2018, continued to assert that it “does not need approval by any other Town boards…”
In 2016, we met with both the majority and minority party leaders, urging them to review the Commission’s rule-making in 2009, approving a change to permit hunting in these town parcels. Both refused to take up that responsibility, which was specifically established in response to public concern about designation of such properties, in 1999. At that time, the RTM made changes to the Town Code, §35-12, “Designation of use of acquired land,” which thereby established two lines of legislative review, enfolding “use” or “administration” of public open space properties.
With many members that are constituents who vote in Fairfield itself, we cannot allow this situation to continue.
As such, Fairfield Beach Access will work to drive awareness of this issue throughout our Town’s governing bodies, to ensure appropriate review of the Commission’s proposed leash/permit program, so that it fairly accommodates the interests of all who may wish to visit these properties, as well as acknowledging the legitimate concerns of abutting neighborhoods or specific residents, where appropriate.