With City Commissioner Brody having raised the topic, city staff directed to explore options for dog parks with shoreline availability

North Lido Key ruled out because of beach-nesting birds, but Brody asks city manager to talk with Sarasota County staff about potential of Ted Sperling Park on South Lido

A visitor to the Brohard Paw Park in Venice enjoys the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the wake of becoming a dog owner, Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody has won support from three of his colleagues for city staff to look into options for more city dog parks, including facilities near or on natural shorelines, as Brody put it in his motion.

However, in response to concerns about the imperiled beach-nesting bird species that gather each season on North Lido Key, Brody agreed that staff should not consider that area. Conversely, he did call for city staff to consult with Sarasota County representatives about the potential of a dog park within Ted Sperling Park, which the county owns at 190 Taft Drive on South Lido Key.

City Manager Marlon Brown said he would have to explore that possibility with county administrative staff.

Brody responded that county staff might consider allowing limited use of Sperling Park property, perhaps during certain times of the year. “I don’t think it’s as much of a nature preserve as North Lido.”

Commissioner Liz Alpert was the only board member to vote against the Jan. 3 motion. During the discussion, she told her colleagues, “I am not in favor of having a dog park on Lido Beach. I just don’t see that that’s a good place to have dogs,” because of the endangered bird species’ nesting patterns.

“As many of you know,” Brody began his comments on the topic on Jan. 3, “I recently adopted a dog, so I’ve been kind of collecting feedback and listening to folks in the city regarding some of the issues regarding our pet owners … I think we want to continue to be a very pet-friendly community,” he added.

He especially is interested in provisions, he continued, so dog owners legally can take their pets to places where the animals can play in the water.

The closest official dog beach, Brody pointed out, is in Venice, “which is quite a hike. … It’s a really wonderful thing. … Packed all the time.”

Sarasota County’s Brohard Paw Park is located at 1850 S. Harbor Drive in Venice, while the Venice dog beach stands at 1600 Harbor Drive S.

This aerial map shows the locations of the dog beach parks in Venice. Image from Google Maps

Moreover, Brody noted, “Our downtown has a tremendous amount of pet owners and not a lot of dog parks … around the downtown area.”

Gillespie Park and Arlington Park are the two primary facilities available to dog owners, he said, “and they’re very heavily used,” and not just by city residents. “People come from all over.”

If other dog parks were available, Brody told his colleagues, those would take stress off the available facilities and offer pet owners new experiences. “One of [the latter] is kind of getting on the water.”

When he asked for the discussion to be placed on the Jan. 3 agenda, Brody continued, he expected some concern about the wildlife on Lido Key to come up. “I don’t want to, you know, hurt the habitat of endangered species …”

Brody then proposed that city staff analyze the potential of Bird Key Park and the area east of that facility, under the Ringling Causeway Bridge. The latter site, he added, is “actually really great for dogs.”

However, City Manager Marlon Brown explained that the area under the bridge is a stormwater facility owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Brown suggested that the board members consider only city-owned properties for dog facilities.

This is a view of Ken Thompson Park. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Another dog park location could be within Ken Thompson Park, near the Mote Marine Laboratory on City Island, “which, in my opinion, is vastly under-utilized,” Brody said. “I think that has the potential to be a really family-friendly, dog-friendly area with a ton of space,” he pointed out.

Grills and picnic tables are situated in that park, Brody noted.

Finally, Brody talked of his observation that dog owners “really take care of [the existing city park areas for their animals]. They clean up after their pets.”

The solitary member of the public to address the board on the proposal was Kylie Wilson, who has been coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Shorebird Stewardship and Monitoring Program in Sarasota County for the past several years.

“There are several imperiled species that are protected by the state that utilize Lido from the south end all the way to the north end,” she told the commissioners. The north end of the shoreline is a park and public beach, she added, while the middle section of the shoreline is privately owned.

However, Wilson continued, Ken Thompson Park and Bird Key Park would be suitable locations. Ken Thompson Park, she noted, has a “huge field that could easily be made into a fenced-in area … and it is super under-utilized.”

This is the colony of black skimmers on Lido Key in May 2020. Photo by Lou Newman, via Kylie Wilson

Wilson did point out that dogs “still get brought to [Lido Beach] fairly regularly, even though the city does not allow them on the shoreline. If dogs get too close to nesting birds, she stressed, “It causes this mass disturbance.”

The black skimmers on Lido, which are among the protected species that return to the county each season, make up “one of the largest colonies in the entire state of Florida,” she said. They also have one of the most productive nesting areas in the state, she added.

The birds see any dog — no matter its size — as a potential predator, Wilson explained. The birds will “flush off their nests,” leaving their eggs and chicks vulnerable to other predators, she said. Moreover, she noted, the sun “can bake an egg very quickly in the middle of July.”

Although she and her volunteers post signs to advise the public about the birds, Wilson told the commissioners, those signs are only effective if the public reads them. Her mission, she added, is to try to educate people about the birds. “I just think it would really be mixed messaging to try to put a dog park on the actual beach …”

Not only would a dog park on Lido threaten the nesting birds, Wilson also pointed out, but it would affect other protected species that are found on the island, including red knots.

Other commissioners’ views

Following Wilson’s comments, Mayor Erik Arroyo called on his colleagues for their views of Brody’s proposal.

Vice Mayor Kyle Battie said he agreed with Brody. “I’m a dog lover myself,” Battie added. He used to have a dog, he continued; before he had have put down, he took it to Bird Key Park.

Arroyo noted that he had “received some comments from residents” who would like to be able to walk their dogs on waterfront property. He added that he was in favor of directing staff to analyze the options.

File photo

Commissioner Liz Alpert said she supported asking staff to analyze the potential of Ken Thompson Park and Bird Key Park and perhaps other city-owned facilities.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch also voiced support for a dog park within Ken Thompson Park, but not on Lido Beach. “I don’t think we should consider Lido Beach at all.”

Ahearn-Koch added, “I’m sort of half-hearted about Bird Key Park. I think we need to pay special attention to the environmental and water quality impacts of this situation.”

Brody later said he believes Bird Key Park would be too narrow for a dog park, but he still wanted staff to look into the potential use of the FDOT stormwater site beneath the Ringling Bridge.

Ahearn-Koch voiced worry about the FDOT property because of its use for stormwater purposes.

This is a view of the fishing pier at Whitaker Gateway Park in Sarasota. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

She also noted, “I find it a tiny bit ironic, Commissioner Brody, that you’re requesting this …” Several years ago, she reminded him, city staff had a design in place for a dog park at Whitaker Gateway Park, which is located at 1445 N. Tamiami Trail. Areas for large and small dogs would have been separated, she added. “It was ready to go and you didn’t support the project,” she told Brody.

“The Whitaker Park proposal had considerable neighborhood opposition,” Brody responded. “My feeling on that one was that it was just so close to the Gillespie [dog park]. I wanted to spread [out the city dog parks], which I’m still advocating for.”

The plans for Whitaker Gateway Park “came about by massive community support,” Ahearn-Koch told Brody. Yet, after residents of one neighboring residential structure opposed the project, she noted, the City Commission dropped the idea.

After Vice Mayor Battie said he was not familiar with Whitaker Gateway Park, City Manager Brown noted that it is located near the 14th Street intersection with U.S. 41.