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Dog Park Debate Heated at City Council Meeting

A tense exchange happened during the citizens' comment period, where people for and against the park addressed the council. One council member is looking into relocating the park.

Tensions ran high, voices were raised at times and the assistant police chief spoke to members on both sides of the debate over during the  citizens' comment period at the Stone Mountain city council's regular business meeting Tuesday night.

At odds are residents who oppose the park, such as Wes Autry and Mark Keyton, and the park's advocates, including Kay Hopkins and Aleksandra Hoagland. All four spoke at Tuesday's meeting, as well as others. The park was closed until further notice in December, following a unanimous vote by the council.

"A dog park is a wonderful thing, but it's got to be somewhere else," said Autry, who has come before the council in the past to talk about problems with the dog park such as the noise level, parking, and people arriving during off hours. He said he has 80 signatures from residents thanking the council for closing the park. 

Supporters said if the rules and hours are posted, one physical change is made within the park and the gate locked during off hours, Red Dog Park could work. Hoagland and Hopkins organized a letter-writing campaign getting 22 letters to council members.

Red Dog Park's fate rests with the council, which plans to discuss the matter at its retreat on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. in the municipal building, 875 Main Street. The meeting is open to the public but there will be no public comment period. The council will have its next voting meeting March 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Toward the end of Tuesday's meeting, which was , council member Steve Higgins told the audience he plans to meet Friday with Stone Mountain Memorial Association's (SMMA) Bob Cowhig to discuss possibly moving the dog park to another area on Stone Mountain Park's grounds, not close to residents. According to SMMA's web site, Cowhig is its director of planning and development. SMMA owns the dog park land.

During her comments, Hopkins talked to the council about how the has been handled.

Hopkins said despite advocates' attempts, the dog park "continues to not be on the agenda" reminded the council that the dog park's new hours were never posted, as required by law, and that there have been different messages about whether the closing is temporary or permanent.

"I cannot fight a moving target," Hopkins said.

Citizens' suggestions Tuesday ranged from relocating it elsewhere, away from residential areas; reopening it at its current location, posting its new hours and making sure the gate is locked during off-hours; and alleviating issues such as barking problems by taking down the interior fence intended to separate small dogs from large ones.

Some people on Tuesday told the council they no longer visit the city since the park closed; a few of the dog owners said they now go to Adair Dog Park in Decatur or Milam Dog Park in Clarkston.

Citizens also told the council of their experiences, before and after the park's closing. Those who oppose the park said the area is now peaceful. Some supporters described happy times with their pets as well as being cursed at and hearing racial epithets directed at some park visitors. Pet owner Natasha Jordan showed a photo of her dog Brownie to each council member, telling them "he's not happy anymore" since Red Dog Park closed.

Tempers flared particularly between Hopkins and Autry at one point. During her second time making comments, Hopkins turned to the audience to directly address Autry, and pointed. Autry told her to stop pointing at him. Then, shortly after Hopkins left the microphone, Autry told Hopkins not to put her hands on him.

Lt. Shirlene Manning, the city's assistant chief of police spoke to both, stepping outside the room. After the meeting, Patch learned from Manning that a simple assault case is pending regarding Hopkins poking Autry on the leg.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the land ownership of the park.

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