Sylvia Miles, who lives in the area and walked through Resthaven Park Tuesday morning with Merv, the Brussels Griffon terrier, cheered council’s decision. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Sylvia Miles, who lives in the area and walked through Resthaven Park Tuesday morning with Merv, the Brussels Griffon terrier, cheered council’s decision. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Plans buried for off-leash dog park in Sidney’s Resthaven Park

Plans won’t fly because of proximity to bird sanctuary, other concerns

Sidney won’t let the dogs out after all in Resthaven Park near Tsehum Harbour.

Despite revisions to the design of the proposed park, following council’s direction last month, Sidney councillors voted unanimously to cease planning for an off-leash dog park in part of Resthaven Park, citing a range of reasons including the park’s proximity to a migratory bird sanctuary.

Established in 1931, the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary lies just east of Resthaven Park with the boundary being the high-tide line. It includes 144 hectares of sheltered bays and extensive intertidal mudflats in North Saanich and Sidney, according to a description by the Capital Regional District.

“Although the sanctuary is now surrounded by dense urban development and includes many marinas, the ecosystem still supports a rich diversity of seabirds, shorebirds and waterfowl during migration and through winter,” it reads.

Bob Peart, chair of the Friends of Shoal Harbour, acknowledged in his submission the proposed dog park lies outside the migratory sanctuary. “(However,) we are concerned that the off-leash park will attract more dog owners to bring their dogs to the park and that not all of them will confine their use to the fenced area, thus increasing the noise and number of dogs off-leash in the park generally with a negative effect on the behaviour of the migratory birds and their habitat.”

While Coun. Terri O’Keeffe acknowledged staff’s efforts to create more separation between the proposed park and the shoreline, those changes were not enough.

RELATED: Report recommends dogs run off-leash in Sidney’s Resthaven Park

“What limited understanding I have about bird and wildlife behaviour is it’s not just the physical aspect of dogs running around the shoreline and barking at birds and being physically in their space,” she said, adding it’s also about the noise. “Migratory birds flying over a dog park are going to perceive that as a threat.”

Council’s decision came after staff made some revisions, while still recommending the area. “Overall, staff are still recommending this dog park, because a fenced off-leash dog park was one of the nine key priorities in the park master plan back in 2018 and there isn’t really any other option that staff could recommend on the east side of Sidney,” said Jenn Clary, Sidney’s director of engineering. “The net benefit of a fenced dog area would be a positive compared to the status quo for the migratory bird sanctuary, which Resthaven Park is outside of.”

Staff, however, also recommended against revisiting some of the other potential locations because of their various issues.

Council received a large volume of submissions on the subject dating back to the late fall 2021, when the project started to gain more public attention. Monday’s council meeting package included 41 submissions with the majority against the project.

Public concerns about the negative effects of dogs on migratory birds were not the only ones swaying councillors. Critics also lamented the pending loss of green space popular with all ages as well as the availability of parking.

Sylvia Miles, who lives in the area and walked through the park Tuesday morning with Merv, the Brussels Griffon terrier belonging to her friend, cheered council’s decision. “I love animals, I love all animals, but I don’t know if this is the best area for it,” she said.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said Sidney is a small, compact community that continues to densify with residents having access to a range of facilities in the broader region, pointing to Cy Hampson Park. “There are facilities for dog walkers,” he said. “Are they the ideal parks for dogs socializing and that sort of thing? Perhaps not. But on balance, we are taking the right decision this evening for our community.”

RELATED: Sidney could let the dogs out in Resthaven Park

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