By Paul Cantor
NORWALK, Conn. – I am a West Norwalk resident, a member of the West Norwalk and Friends of Oak Hills associations and a Norwalk taxpayer who, along with other taxpayers of the city, in deference to the desire of the golfers among us, have permitted the Oak Hills Park Authority to construct an 18-hole golf course in our park, on the condition that the revenue brought in from operating the course cover its costs.
And for years when Vinny Grillo Sr. and Vinny Grillo Jr. were the pros at Oak Hills, previous authorities met that condition and things ran smoothly and there was no controversy. Recently, however, due to a drop in demand for rounds of golf or mismanagement (or both), the golf course has been operating in the red.
Consequently the taxpayers of Norwalk are being asked to provide the authority with additional land on which to construct a driving range on the premise that revenues from the driving range will solve the authority’s financial problems. But just as with the restaurant a previous authority built with money taxpayers provided, that premise represents a chimera that is being pursued at taxpayer expense.
The RFP as originally written seeks a private firm to build a driving range that will destroy the last remaining wooded area of Oak Hills and make the park even less accessible than it already is to people who don’t play golf. Additionally, the authority’s desire for a revenue and traffic generating facility is at cross-purposes with the desire of people who live in West Norwalk to maintain the residential quality of their neighborhood. Furthermore, even with respect to the revenue raising purposes for which it is intended, the RFP falls short because of its failure to stipulate the minimum amount of money required from the firm that operates the driving range and the restrictions you would put on that firm.
Specifically, among the questions the RFP fails to address are: How much money does the authority expects it needs from the proposed driving range facility to solve its financial problems? How many additional rounds of golf does it expect the driving range to generate? What is the minimum amount the city is willing to accept for leasing parkland to a driving range developer? What is the minimum share of gross revenues from the driving range’s operations that the city is willing to accept? And, is the authority, as previously promised, going to prohibit the driving range to be operated at night or at any time when the course itself is not open for play?
Because of its failure to answer these questions, the RFP for a driving range adds insult to injury by ignoring virtually all of the concerns taxpayers have raised with regard to the proposal. Oak Hills Park is no place for a driving range and the authority’s effort to drive a driving range down the throats of taxpayers is harmful to golfers and non-golfers alike. Golfers, after all, don’t want a driving range in the park if it is going to undermine support for and sustainability of the golf course. So from the point of view of all involved the best thing that can be done with the RFP is to place it in the circular file.