No dogs allowed: Common Council keeps dog prohibition in new Commons legislation

March 4, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

The City of Ithaca's Common Council approved a revision to the section of the City of Ithaca's municipal code that pertains to the Ithaca Commons on Wednesday night, but a proposed change that would have removed the prohibition on dogs was dropped.

Remaining intact is the paragraph that states licensed dogs are allowed on the Commons only with a permit, and only with written permission of a business or residence owner on the Commons.

Donna Fleming, a Common Council alderperson for the City's third ward, saying she was opposed to the proposed change allowing dogs, introduced an amendment at tonight's Common Council meeting that would revert the municipal code so it would retain the prohibition on dogs on the Commons. "The Commons is largely a commercial district," Fleming said. "We want people to buy things and eat things and go into our merchants."

Fleming also expressed concerns about enforcing solid waste pickup, and the problem of urination. "There's no place for it to be absorbed on our nice, shiny, new pavers," she said. Third ward alderperson Ellen McCollister agreed. Even if police officers can watch for violations during the day, "What happens after that, or in the middle of the night? We don't have a great track record with enforcement."

Deborah Mohlenhoff, a fifth ward alderperson and herself a dog owner who loves doing as much as she can with her dogs, said, "I don't know how you could stay on the Commons, or go in and out of stores, if you have your dog there."

"My other concern is dogs at festivals," Mohlenhoff said, who referred to a recent incident with two normally well-behaved dogs and normally responsible dog owners at the Chili Cook-Off. "Whichever way this goes, I hope we would have some sort of language that would not allow dogs at events with large crowds." Second ward alderperson J.R. Claireborne felt the majority of dog owners would be responsible, but agreed. "I say majority, but it only takes one."

"I'm wondering if we're projecting an influx of dogs," observed first ward alderperson Cynthia Brock, who seemed to feel the Commons shouldn't be treated differently from other pedestrian areas of the City. "I think typical dog owners will behave responsibly," she added.

"There are plenty of other places in the city for dogs," countered fourth ward alderperson Graham Kerslick. The Commons is "a confined space, but there's no grass, there are not a lot of trees," he added. 

Common Council members also discussed language prohibiting people from climbing on, or allowing children to climb on, any structures on the Commons, which as written would seem to prohibit the use of playground play structures; and limiting vendors to the use of portable carts on wheels, prohibiting the use of tables or pop-up tents. "We wouldn't locate a mobile food vendor in front of a restaurant," added City Clerk Julie Conley Holcomb. Common Council amended the language to allow for climbing on playground structures.

Amendments to the proposed legislation, and the final legislation, all passed by unanimous 9-0 votes. (Only nine of ten Common Council members were present at Wednesday's meeting.)

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