A dog is man's best friend.
But a fair number of homeowners at the Burlingame Ranch Phase I affordable-housing development might tend to disagree with that timeless phrase. At a recent homeowners' association meeting, dozens of them voiced their displeasure with a plan by the city to remove restrictions on dogs in their neighborhood and the adjoining Burlingame Phase II property, where the city will begin to build residential units soon.
Burlingame Phase I residents bought their homes with the understanding that neither they nor their neighbors could keep dogs as pets. Many of them believe that canines would be a nuisance in the area. There is, after all, the possibility that one barking dog could start a chain reaction of noise that might take time to quell. Dogs also sometimes carry little critters such as ticks, and anyone who's ever had to have their house fumigated or their dog dipped to kill the tiny insects knows what a big bother that is.
There also is the issue of poop and the occasional instance of a dog getting away from its owner and leaving some in a neighbor's yard. The city could set a lot of tight rules regarding dog ownership - even setting up a system in which poop could be DNA-tested to identify the culprit and to level fines against its irresponsible owner - but dogs will be dogs, and problems are likely to occur from time to time.
But there are positives of having a dog. Intense loyalty. Home security. Comfort during times of stress or despair. Even emergency aid: There are countless stories, many of them true, of dogs having saved lives. Anyone who's ever seen a "Lassie" episode knows just how capable canines really are.
Everyone knows there are pros and cons to dog ownership. So how should the city of Aspen, which despite claims to the contrary obviously wants to stir more interest in Burlingame II by making it dog-friendly, proceed? What role should Burlingame I residents have in the process?
First things first: There is the matter of some red tape to sort through. Dogs are not allowed at Burlingame I, nor would they be allowed at Burlingame II, because of the current stipulation in the pre-annexation agreement between the city and owners of a ranch that borders Burlingame. But the Bar/X no longer is a working ranch, and the city is working with the homeowners' association representing 13 single-family homes on that property to lift the restriction, which was set before Burlingame I opened in 2007.
Mayor Mick Ireland's idea is that once that matter is cleared up, then residents should decide for themselves whether dogs should be allowed at Burlingame. He said he would favor a combined vote of residents of both developments. Thus, the majority would get to rule on the issue, which makes sense to us.
While we agree with the mayor's democratic way of thinking, and believe him to be on the right track, we still say the only fair way to handle the canine controversy would be to hold separate votes. If the vast majority of Burlingame I residents don't want dogs, that's their inherent right. But that shouldn't prevent Burlingame II buyers from deciding the matter for themselves in a few years, at the point when more than half of the 167 homes planned for the property are sold.
We don't buy into the argument by some residents of Phase I that allowing dogs at Burlingame II - even if they are still banned at Burlingame I - would adversely affect their quality of life. We also don't believe that allowing dogs would have a negative impact on wildlife and open space in that area. In our eyes, dogs have a right to enjoy open spaces as much as humans do.
We recognize that there are a lot of ifs, ands, buts and what-have-yous with this issue. In fact, an Aspen City Council work session has been scheduled for March 4 at 5 p.m. to address dogs at Burlingame. By that time, the results of a survey being sent to gather input from Burlingame I's 91 property owners on the question of lifting dog restrictions might be known.
Meanwhile, we'd like to encourage residents to relax, attend next month's meeting to gain more knowledge and then debate the issue calmly and rationally. Even if the restrictions are lifted and dogs are allowed at Burlingame, that doesn't necessarily mean that Burlingame will go to the dogs, as the saying goes. They just might improve the area, making it a better place for their human friends - an effect that's been proven time and time again.