A plan to bring a combo dog park and bar to Buckhead Village earned a local zoning review committee’s version of a tail-wag March 3.

Fetch Park’s intent to replace a parking lot at 309 Buckhead Ave. got the approval recommendation from the Development Review Committee of Special Public Interest District 9 on two grounds: the booming dog population and the likelihood that the dog park is relatively temporary, with full-scale redevelopment possible in around five years.

The Fetch dog park and bar in Old Fourth Ward as shown in a March 3 presentation to the Development Review Committee of Special Public Interest District 9.

“This is drastically needed in this area because it seems like everybody who has moved into the Village has a dog, at least one,” said DRC member Sally Silver. 

Also popular was Fetch’s model of tightly policing dogs’ behavior with supervisors dubbed “bark rangers,” especially compared to the messes left behind by some dog-walkers on local sidewalks. As DRC member Bonnie Dean of Selig Enterprises put it, “Save Buckhead. Let your dog poop in Fetch.”

The DRC is an advisory body to the city. If the city grants the variations, Fetch founder and CEO Stephen Ochs said, the dog park would open as soon as possible. A tentative timeline announced last year was for a May or June opening.

Fetch debuted a few years ago with a location in the Old Fourth Ward and plans to expand shortly with sites on Atlanta’s Westside and in Alpharetta and Nashville, Tennessee. Its model is a hybrid of quasi-public park open for free to anyone; a membership-based dog park; and a bar and restaurant operating out of an Airstream trailer. 

Silver, who is an aide to North Buckhead-area City Councilmember Howard Shook, reported that he visited Fetch’s existing location “and couldn’t quit raving about it. He likes the fact that he can have an ice-cold brew and his dogs had a fabulous time.”

The proposed Fetch Buckhead location is a 1.3-acre parking lot at the southeast corner of Buckhead Avenue and North Fulton Drive owned by Jamestown, the real estate company that operates the adjacent Buckhead Village District shopping and residential complex. The lot has been used in recent months for outdoor movie screenings staged by the nonprofit Livable Buckhead, whose executive director, Denise Starling, heads the DRC.

The parking lot at 309 Buckhead Ave. that would become the Fetch dog park, as seen in a 2019 Google Maps image.

Ochs told the DRC that he has a 10-year lease with Jamestown with a provision allowing the dog park to be displaced after five years if the company wants to build a highrise on the site. “The realist in me thinks we’re going to be here for five years,” Ochs said, adding he hopes it is longer.

That possibly temporary nature of the business made DRC members more open to some of the several administrative zoning variations Fetch is seeking, particularly one that aims to avoid constructing new, wider sidewalks. DRC members noted that the sidewalks are already too narrow there, but agreed with the variation if small cut-outs were added along the path so that walkers and their dogs could move out each other’s way.

Other variations are needed to allow open-slatted wooden fencing along the main property lines and an 8-foot-high privacy fence in the rear. DRC members were OK with those moves as long as some type of art is added to the main fences, as is done in the existing, mural-decorated Fetch. The Buckhead site includes two stormwater detention ponds with chain-link fencing, which would remain but could be screened by greenery, art or both, Ochs said.

Randy Pimsler, the project’s architect, said city planning staff told him that the dog park would need a minimum of five parking spaces and a maximum of seven. Fetch plans to provide more than that, but all off-site in existing Jamestown garages nearby. However, the written agreement was not available, and the DRC made its approval conditional on seeing a copy.

Some other variations relating to setbacks and streetfront windows gained easy approval because, while triggered by such items in the plan as the Airstream trailer, they are intended for full-scale buildings. The other new structures on the site would be a restrooms and a covered stage. The surface would be artificial turf atop gravel. 

Stephen Ochs, founder and CEO of Fetch Park, shows off his “Bark Ranger” sweatshirt to the SPI-9 DRC at the March 3 meeting. “Bark Ranger” is Fetch’s term for an on-site supervisor.

DRC members had several questions about Fetch’s operations, especially since the Buckhead site is near homes. Ochs said the existing site does not have a maximum occupancy for humans or dogs, but that the “bark ranger” in charge monitors conditions and admits or excludes users as needed. “Sometimes we might have 20 dogs in there and it seems like a hundred,” while a large group of dogs might be getting along well, said Ochs, who was wearing a sweatshirt reading “Bark Ranger.” Problem dogs or humans are quickly kicked out and banned, he said.

Dog noise is rarely any issue, Ochs said. “Dogs bark when they’re not entertained,” he said. Fetch plans some outdoor entertainment at the site that he said would make minimal noise, including movie screenings and acoustic music, the latter of which was scheduled at the existing park in roughly the 6 to 9 p.m. hours. 

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.