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Hartford Adds Rules For Public Lands

Hartford — Residents will no longer be allowed to let dogs roam free on town park grounds, forest land and conservation areas, as the Selectboard voted Tuesday night to add provisions to the municipal parks ordinance.

When the changes go into effect in 60 days, residents will also be banned from smoking in parks, walking dogs on athletic fields and occupying parks after dusk.

Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker said prior to the meeting that the changes to the smoking policy and park hours were a result of loitering and misuse of park space.

The stiffer parameters apply to about 15 different sites in Hartford, including the town forest and conservation lands.

Jane Svetaka, of Wilder, who often walks her Shih Tzu-mix near the Kilowatt parks, said at Tuesday’s Public Hearing that it is not necessary for people in Kilowatt North or Kilowatt South to have their dogs on a leash.

“You don’t have a problem with walking dogs off leash because most people are there first thing in the morning or in the evening and no one is picnicking,” Svetaka said during the meeting. “And if you come into a picnic area, they are more than happy to put their dogs on a leash.”

Jeff Reed, of White River Junction, perceived the situation differently.

Reed favored the leash law, saying it will lessen the probability of a dog fight or altercation.

“Dogs are much more excitable when kids are running around and when there is more excitement going on,” Reed, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said. “If they are likely to bite anyone, it would be in a situation when they are amped up.”

The wording of the ordinance change gives the town the ability to make a section of any park into an “off-leash designated area,” meaning dogs would be able to roam freely. For example, portions of Quechee Green Park and Kilowatt South are currently being considered.

The Selectboard voted, 5-1, to add the four provisions to the town’s parks ordinance. Simon Dennis was the lone vote against. The changes will be properly warned and go into effect in two months.

“I am mindful ... that in our core parks where there are a lot of people (that) it makes sense,” Selectman Chuck Wooster said of the leash law. “But I encourage people to look into off-leash areas.”

Dennis said he felt the new ordinances “single out” groups of people and counteract the town’s vision of being an “enjoyable” place to live.

Parks and Recreation Director Tad Nunez said the leash ordinance will limit liability to the town because having dogs run freely is “a potential liable situation.”

Dennis wasn’t convinced.

“I would like more information on the way in which our legal exposure is reduced,” Dennis said.

Prior to the meeting, Nunez said the ordinances would be enforced by the town Police Department. He did say, though, that “only if it becomes a habit will the town take action.”

A violation of the parks ordinance is subject to a penalty of not more than $500.

The areas where the changes will take effect include: Quechee Green Park, Watson Memorial Park, Erwin Clifford Park, George Ratcliffe Park, Hurricane Wildlife Refuge Park, Frost Park, Kilowatt North and South parks, Veterans Park, Meeting House Common, Lyman Point Park, Fred Briggs Park, Hurricane Town Forest, Maanawaka Conservation Area, David Chang Conservation Area and any other properties managed by the recreation department and conservation commission.

Smoking Policy

Hartford’s Parks Ordinance has restrictions on bringing alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs into park areas.

The change would add the “use of any smoking tobacco products” to the list.

Currently, advisory signs are posted in several of the park areas discouraging people from smoking tobacco, but that is merely a “rule” instead of a “law.”

“We ask that we go a step farther to make it part of the ordinance so people can’t congregate on our benches and smoke,” Nunez said. “It isn’t a healthy thing ... with the cigarette butts and second hand smoke.”

The town of Weathersfield instituted a no smoking ban in public park areas in 2011.

Town Manager Jim Mullen said “it made a statement” when the ordinance was adopted. He said, though, “there was no reaction from the public.” Mullen said enforcing the ordinance is “a non issue,” as very few people abuse it.

“The more common thing would be for a police officer to go up and (talk to) the person doing it,” Mullen said.

Hanover currently does not ban smoking on public property, though the Selectboard considered adopting an ordinance three years ago but it “felt it would be an enforcement challenge,” Town Manager Julia Griffin said.

Hours of Operation

The town parks, forest land and conservation areas currently open at dawn and close at 9 p.m. The change would restrict access — with the areas opening at dawn, but closing at dusk.

“Not many good things happen after the sun goes down in our parks and people should vacate them,” Nunez said.

The change in hours wouldn’t affect anyone wishing to camp-out in the designated areas because there is already an ordinance that prohibits individuals from doing so.

Leash Law

Under the current parks ordinance, there is no leash law, meaning dogs can run freely in the park spaces included under the ordinance.

The proposed change would mandate all dogs be kept on a leash, except for in an area that permits dogs to gallivant around. For example, dogs don’t need to be on a leash at the dog park at Watson Memorial Park in Hartford Village.

Hanover follows state law relative to leashed dogs, which states the animal must be “within the owner’s control, which means a leash is not required if they are well behaved and obey voice commands,” Griffin said.

Hartford did discuss the ordinance changes in December 2013, but a housekeeping measure wasn’t completed, resulting in the town needing to readopt the ordinances a second time around.

This time, the changes are the real-deal.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.