The dog days of summer have arrived for the vacant Church in the City

Dogs like to dig, and gardeners like to dig. But East High boosters aren't digging a proposal that would put a dog park alongside an urban garden at the site of the former Church in the City, less than a block away from the historic school.

Earlier this year, the city used $6 million in bond money to buy the 2.6-acre site that the church had occupied for sixteen years. Denver's Department of Parks and Recreation plans to build a new regional recreation center there, but the city doesn't have the money right now — and may not have it for five to ten years.

The vacant church building, a former Safeway at 1530 Josephine Street, had regularly provided a roof to a dozen or more homeless people. But it had also created dangerous living conditions for those people and presented a menace to students, according to East officials. So on June 4, a fence is scheduled be installed around the property; the building could be torn down by the end of the month, says Denver City Council president Jeanne Robb.

To come up with an interim use for the land, Robb and fellow councilwoman Carla Madison convened a committee of representatives from the neighborhood, local businesses and East. In late May, the group voted to turn the site into a combination community garden and dog park – but only if responsible, dog-loving volunteers take the lead in keeping the park from getting nasty. A proposal for a fenced dog park in nearby City Park was shot down earlier this year after neighbors protested and the city decided it didn't have the money for a fence.

While Robb and Madison say there haven't been any complaints about the Fuller Dog Park, which is located behind Manual High School, East High principal John Youngquist isn't very excited about the prospect of cavorting canines so close to his school. "Our stance is that a dog park isn't the most collaborative use. We are trying to figure out how our students would engage in that activity," Youngquist says. A garden, on the other hand, could be used as a teaching tool — and both Denver Urban Gardens and the GrowHaus have expressed an interest in getting involved with that part of the project.

PTSA co-president Joe Crystal is even more blunt about that spot going to the dogs. A dog park, he says, "will be noisy, smelly, unsightly, and there will be the possibility of fights between animals."

Hey, that sounds a lot like this corner of Colfax already.

Dog parks are a hot topic right now — and not just in Denver, which is under pressure from the pet-loving public to find more places to put them (adding up to ten more to the seven already run by Parks and Rec), but at Cherry Creek and Chatfield state parks, where the state plans to drastically reduce the size of two existing dog parks. The debate has sparked fights between pooch lovers and people who'd rather see the parks dedicated to other things, like hiking, walking and biking; there will be meetings on the proposal this week.

And in May, Denver resident Byron Williams announced that he would try to gather enough signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow dogs to roam city parks off-leash from 5 to 8 a.m. every day. "I have people in Cheesman Park who love to have dogs off-leash," says Robb, who was very involved with the city's Dog Park Master Plan. "I think it will be very interesting to have people vote on this ballot initiative."

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