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The Cashions like the dog park but object to its size. "We want to share," says Jim, a 56-year-old carpenter. "But we want to put the fence back where it was originally supposed to go." In explaining why it has taken two years to mount the effort, he says he tried to bring the "mistake" to Miami parks and recreation department director Albert Ruder. "It fell on deaf ears," he complains. "You couldn't talk to anybody." When they spoke to Eckert about moving the fence, Caroline adds, "She said, “It's never going to happen. For every parent you get, I'll have ten dog owners.' I was totally floored. I could not believe she said that."
Where does Eckert think the fence was supposed to go? "Right where the damn fence is!" she barks from behind her desk at the North/East Coconut Grove Neighborhood Enhancement Team Service Center. When contacted at his downtown office, parks director Ruder agreed with that assessment and offered to dig out a site plan to confirm the fence location, a document that would definitively settle the controversy. Later, however, he conceded that such a plan doesn't exist.
But at New Times's request, Eckert shed some light on the matter, swiftly pulling from her own dog-park files a sketch of the fence included in a three-page estimate submitted in January 1999 by the Warren Fence Company, which installed the dark green, vinyl-coated barrier. The sketch indicates that the length of the dog park -- from street corner to disputed fence -- was to be 186 feet. But today the dog area is longer than that. Using a tape measure, Jim Cashion determined it to be 216 feet 2 inches. He calculates the dogs annexed a full 47 feet of the kids' area.
Winton doesn't want to hear about it, no matter what the original plan might have been. "These are goddamn Johnny-come-latelies," the commissioner gripes. "The fence works just fine where it is. There's no reason to move the damn fence. I'm not going to move the fence an inch. My view is: Go to another park if that one's not big enough."
How about moving the fence just to hush up Meyer and her cohorts?
Winton: "There are a lot of important things to do in this city, and putting up with Melissa Meyer is not one of them."
Eckert: "They want 44 feet today. What's it going to be tomorrow?"
With all the snarling going on, resolution of the dog-park imbroglio may fall to Assistant City Manager Frank Rollason. He's witnessed such battles before. "This is a neighborhood pissing match," he observes. He too tried to settle the matter with a parks department site plan. "One doesn't exist," he confirms. But after analyzing the situation he concludes that moving the fence wouldn't be such a big deal. "I don't think we're going to get big squawks from Purina," he shrugs.
So if anyone is going to be tossing Meyer a bone, it could be Rollason. He is in charge of plans to replace the controversial fence with a higher one and plant a hedge along it. (It's a foot shorter than it was supposed to be.) In other words if it's going to be moved, now is the time. "Absolutely," Rollason says. "It really doesn't make a difference to me where that fence is, but I don't want to raise it to 4 feet now and then have to go back and move it 44 feet."
Meyer and the Cashions have requested that their fence-relocation proposal be placed on the June 14 Miami City Commission agenda. In the meantime Meyer is polling residents of central Grove to prove she's not just howling at the moon.