Council on Monday night will consider staff recommendations around leash-free, fenced-in dog parks that suggest building two new facilities in 2019 and proposes a policy that includes consultation with the wider community, a move that was part of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s re-election platform.

Earlier this month staff brought the Leash Free Program Policy to Committee of the Whole seeking approval. The report identified background research, an implementation plan and a policy framework to regulate leash-free into the future.

The initiative did not come out of the lack of leash-free areas in general. There are eight across the municipality which actually exceeds the average of leash free areas per capita when compared to five other studied cities. However, the issue comes in with the lack of full fenced-in dog parks.

Staff found three locations that would be the first built into fenced-in areas. Bristol Street Park and Peter Misersky Park could be completed within the year and Lee Street Park could also feature fences by 2020.

There could be some complaints with the proposed locations, however, as two are within a kilometre of each other in the east end and the other is downtown. Residences are only able to easily access Bristol Street Park if they live north of the space as just south of it is Wellington St. West.

The report also recommended halting the practice of using unoccupied sports fields as leash free areas based on their research. But Council requested that staff balance the findings of the report and still provide more accessible locations throughout the city.

Specifically, Council asked that staff consider a modification to the proposed policy to include definitions for unoccupied sports fields and identify a specific number of those fields that can be used as leash free areas when unoccupied.

In response, staff say they developed criteria for a hybrid model to be used by residents for the leash free areas. They aim to balance public safety and hygiene concerns as well as address operational issues that come out of dealing with a wider distribution of community assets for a variety of residents.

Staff identified four different field types that cannot be used across the city. “Premier sports fields” should not be used for dogs, they write, as they are have a high level of maintenance. Also excluded from consideration for hybrid use is land owned by third parties — which make up 13 sports fields in Guelph.

The city found 27 sports fields that are in close proximity to schools within the municipality. After consulting with various school boards, staff determined that for safety reasons, those fields should be excluded from the leash free list.

After tallying up the parks excluded and the ones already being considered at Bristol Street and Peter Misersky parks, staff found that the city has 41 sports fields that could be considered as “acceptable sites for leash free use when not occupied.”

Both off-leash, fenced-in areas considered for 2019 would be funded by existing city capital funds with an approved expenditure of some $200,000. Council will consider the recommendations on Monday, where the mayor at least is expected to support the policy. Guthrie had a related platform plank in 2018, writing that he wanted to “create fenced-in dog parks across our city”.