For 40 minutes, puzzled newcomers at a meeting of the Dog Park Association of Southwest Boston tonight couldn't figure why DCR had abruptly abandoned work with the group to turn the decaying nine-acre Thompson Center in Stony Brook Reservation into Hyde Park's first dog park - to the point of refusing to even let group members see the consultant's plans the group had partially paid for.
Association leaders kept dancing around the question. Somebody, they said, had turned DCR Commissioner Leo Roy against them.
Then, at 7:39 p.m., a resident mentioned the name Scaccia.
It was as if a weight had been lifted off people's shoulders, at least of those who support the dog park, and they were finally free to complain that Angelo Scaccia, Hyde Park's long-running state representative, had not only somehow convinced DCR Commissioner Leo Roy that nobody in Hyde Park wanted a dog park but would refuse to even talk to them in person at local get togethers, let alone on the phone.
The association called the meeting in part to see if there was enough support in Hyde Park to more actively engage DCR and Scaccia beyond the nearly 1,000 signatures on an online petition and the yard signs now placed around Hyde Park.
Under the now secret plans paid for with $10,000 from the association and $20,000 from DCR, the association would, over a five-year or so period create a multi-use park that would feature not just unique woodland trails for dogs and their owners, but picnic areas, new parking and plenty of space for youth programs that could range from community-service projects to maintain the park to spaces for mural painting and musical performances.
The association initially wanted to work with city officials to build a dog park at Millennium Park in West Roxbury, but federal environmental officials put the kibosh on that because most of the park sits atop the former city landfill, which means no permanent structures, even fencing, can be erected, for fear of disrupting the clay that keeps rainwater from getting into the decades of trash buried there.
Association members began looking around and found the Thompson Center, initially built as a dedicated recreational facility for handicapped kids, but closed since the 1990s and allowed to fall apart when vandals weren't busy setting parts of it on fire and covering the rest in graffiti. By day, some people now use it to walk their dogs; by night, it becomes a handy location for drug users to shoot or light up, nearby residents say.
Both grizzled dog-park supporters and pro-dog newcomers said they couldn't wait for the new facilities, where their pets could get a chance to run free legally and without bothering people who somehow find their way to Stony Brook to enjoy the unique urban forest. Lara Sullivan of Roslindale, who has a collie puppie, said she would love a local place where she could bring her feisty pet. Sullivan and other dog owners said there's something about a dog park that fosters a sense of community - not just among people with something in common but down to yelling at the slobs who let their pets defecate without cleaning up after them.
Longtime association organizers implored the 40 people who attended tonight's meeting to call Roy and Scaccia to register their support for the idea - and to keep calling and going up to Scaccia in particular at local meetings, no matter how many times he refuses to return phone calls or even turns away from people he knows support the dog park.
Not all the people agreed, however. Hyde Park Neighborhood Association President Barbara Baxter, in fact, got into a battle with association President Karen Jones and Treasurer Cindy Laba over who would really pay for the dog park - and allowed as how she might have been the one to convince her friend Scaccia to try to kill the idea.
Baxter said she worried that taxpayers would have to pay for all the work required to build a dog park, despite repeated statements by Jones and Laba that that would never happen. Jones and Laba said DCR has made it clear it would not put any money into the project beyond the initial planning and said that association members would not only pay for the renovation but create a permanent fund to keep the new park up.
Baxter still said she didn't buy it.
Jones, who lives in West Roxbury, verbally threw her hands up. "I'm at a loss for how this neighborhood works," she said. People have been volunteering to get the first dog park in southern Boston for five years and the Thompson Center has turned into a local nexus for the area's opioid crisis. "I need you to tell me why you are lobbying Rep. Scaccia to not let us renovate this property," she said.
Laba, the founder and chief program officer at Beacon Academy in the Longwood Medical Area, had enough of the money argument as well. She told Baxter a key part of her job is raising money. "I can raise money. I raise money every day." And the other association officials also know how to raise money, she said.
Baxter and Jones even got into a disagreement over whether any dog-park association members ever volunteered for the neighborhood association's annual Neponset River cleanups.
One resident who lives near the Thompson Center said she worries about the extra traffic the dog park would mean - and about the disruption to the local wildlife, which she said includes deer, coyotes, turkeys and pheasants.
City Councilor Tim McCarthy said he's a strong supporter of the Thompson Center dog park and the proposals to bring youth programs there. He said he could even see enticing a "breakfast truck" to visit the park on weekend mornings, and to schedule visits from other food trucks the rest of the week. He said that, even in the worst case, in which the dog park fails and DCR just padlocks the area shut again, things would be no worse than they are today.
But because the reservation is owned by the state, it's really Scaccia's jurisdiction, he said. One resident asked McCarthy if he had spoken to Scaccia about the dog park - and if he had been as eloquent with the dean of the House of Representatives as he had just been with residents. "We've had brief conversations," he said, adding it might be time for another.