Above, what you will not be seeing on the Ithaca Commons

Ithaca, N.Y. — Officials have noted that Ithaca may be losing downtown shoppers — and, therefore, money — because of the strictness of its prohibition against dog on the Commons.

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Lawmakers are now considering a proposal to roll back that prohibition. Dogs on the Commons would move Ithaca closer in line with a generation that is much more dog-friendly, and there appears to be a good deal of enthusiasm for the idea, especially among business owners downtown.

But there are concerns, too. Among the most prominent of which is: What happens if our furry friends decided to relieve themselves at the most inopportune places and times?

“It’s not something that will be cleaned easily,” said Cynthia Brock, a city council member, during Wednesday’s meeting.

“And I presume it will absorb odors.”

Currently, dog owners need special permits to bring dogs to the busy pedestrian strip.

See related: Dogs on the Commons? Ithaca begins look at looser leash

But that policy looks to be at risk. After some discussion Wednesday, a unanimous vote sent the Commons dog legislation onto the city’s Common Council, where it will be discussed — and possibly approved — in March.

Julie Holcomb, city clerk, has been a member of the city staff team pioneering the legislation. She stressed her flexibility and willingness to work with both the public and elected representatives’ preferences.

She also made the following points, perhaps in part to mitigate the waste concerns:

— The Downtown Ithaca Alliance is hoping to provide some sort of station for owners to dispose of their dogs’ disposables.

— There will be more law enforcement and “ambassadors” on the Commons to help ensure that residents abide by the law.

— Dog owners could be ticketed “if observed walking away” after not cleaning up after their pets.

— “There will be periodic cleaning” of the new Commons.

— Officials hope to just try out the idea and see if it works. “If it becomes a terrible problem we’ll have to reevaluate it,” she said.

— Officials are really looking to the public for more. “We’re fine either way,” Holcomb says, “whatever public opinion holds.”

The problem is that deciding what exactly the public wants is not so easily done. Holcomb noted that a response to a previous Ithaca Voice story generated hundreds of comments on Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page.

The reactions were mixed — about 50 percent strongly for, about 50 percent strongly against, according to Holcomb.

How are lawmakers supposed to deal with that?

“So,” said Graham Kerslick, a council member, at last night’s meeting, “We can’t win, basically.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.