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Norwalk Council OKs Oak Hills restructuring after citizens protest ‘surprise’ deal

Golf carts lined up near the Oak Hills Park pro shop in June. (File photo)

Updated, 11:14 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline
NORWALK, Conn. — The Common Council on Wednesday authorized the deal it has worked out with the Oak Hills Park Authority, over the protests of four citizens who said the deal had been developed behind closed doors and just became public knowledge this week.

The three-part action authorized an $83,000 special appropriation to cover the Authority’s investment in custom restaurant equipment, allowing the cash-strapped Authority to meet its payroll obligations over the winter; changed the terms of the 2005 loan, with about $2 million outstanding, to make the interest rate zero, retroactive to Fiscal Year 2017; and eliminated the yearly payment on the loan in favor of collecting $2 per round of golf monthly, beginning on July 1, 2020. The Authority will also make an annual payment of 1 percent of its audited annual gross golf revenue.

It’s the fourth time the loan has been restructured, Paul Cantor protested to the Council, charging that the deal had been made outside of the public eye.

“Always the hope of citizens in a democracy is that their elected officials will rise above the pressures placed on them by special interest groups in order to represent the interests of all of those that they have been elected to represent. But with respect to Oak Hills, we just do not see that happening,” he said.

Cantor expressed concern that there’s no guarantee the money will come in, due to decreasing demand for golf rounds.  “When is the Oak Hills Park Authority charade going to end?” he asked.

Yvonne Lopaur read the Council comments from NancyOnNorwalk, including Mitch Adis calling the deal “a scam” and “Al Bore” who wrote, “I thought having a bar was going to solve all of the restaurant’s problems and it would be able to survive on it’s own two feet??”

The Authority should be abolished, she said.

Diane Keefe said she’d just read the news articles Wednesday morning, and had the same thoughts as Lopaur and Cantor.

The park should be under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Parks Department and turned into a destination for year-round activities, she said.  Keefe also suggested a Request for Proposals be issued to attract new restauranteurs.

“I object to the $83,000 being the reason why we have to make a decision on the restructuring now. I think if the Authority needs a short-term loan to bail out this most recent expense, that’s one thing. But dealing with the $2 million-plus along with it, I completely object to it,” she said. “I think the structure having a no-interest loan is horrible … the incentives are not in the right direction for repayment.”

The issue drew public attention on Tuesday and Wednesday, after the proposal was added to the Board of Estimate and Taxation agenda at the last minute. The agenda for Thursday’s Council Finance Committee meeting includes discussing the proposal – a Committee discussion is a preliminary step, done ahead of a full Council vote.

Diane Lauricella sent the Council an email Wednesday, saying, “While I am sure several of you have spent many hours trying to resolve the ongoing financial troubles of the Oak Hills Park and Golf Club, the PUBLIC does not appear to have had the ability to study and offer alternatives for the final plan being discussed tonight. I propose you wait one month in order to allow due diligence to occur by the public as well as many of the Council members not involved with the intimate details.”

“This was probably discussed at every other Finance Committee meeting that we had,” Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said.

NancyOnNorwalk first wrote about it in June. Minutes for the January Finance Committee meeting show that it was a topic. An audit on the Authority was pending.

Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday that the Council has been discussing it for months, and Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) and Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) have relayed information back to the full Council while working as part of a Committee formed to work out a solution to Oak Hills’ ills.

“Finally, this has come to fruition,” Hempstead said.  He noted that former Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D) discussed helping Oak Hills and he hasn’t been on the Council in five years.

The Authority was formed because the City had been running Oak Hills and “it never made enough money to fund itself,” necessitating subsidies, Hempstead, a veteran Council member, said.

“The problem is the Authority for some reason decided to shoulder a building that was $3.2 million, that you could never get the revenue out of that building to pay for the debt service on that bond,” Hempstead said. “This finally kind of levels the playing field, gives them opportunity to pay it back. I think it’s also, a great suggestion, I think it was the Mayor’s, if I remember correctly, about charging per round of golf, to be paid the following month.”

“We are not forgiving the loan, we are forgiving the interest,” Livingston said, in response to a comment by Cantor that the loan was being forgiven. “We are trying to create a mechanism that permits the Authority to make realistic payments on this…. I personally do not play golf but I do recognize the value of Oak Hills to the community and to the City.”

It’s not just a recently renovated golf course but also tennis courts, a restaurant and a nature trail, Burnett said.

“I don’t play golf either,” he added.  The deal “will assist Oak Hills Authority to continue to maintain one of the top public courses in the area while developing a financial level of stability necessary to manage the facility… This is a forward step in the right direction to maintain and enhance one of Norwalk’s key venues,” Burnett said.

No one voted against the proposal; Darlene Young (D-District B) abstained on the $83,000 special appropriation. Michael Corsello (D-At Large), Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C), George Tsiranides (D-District D) and Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) were absent.

“This has been on the table, trying to help Oak Hills get out of situation that has existed for many, many, years, to no fault of the Authority that sits now” Rilling said. “If the city were to take over the running of Oak Hills Park, we would have to hire staff to maintain it. With the staff go benefits, workman comp issues and all other things which now fall under the responsibility of the Authority.”

The intention is to put out an RFP for a new food vendor, he said.

OHPA Chairman Bill Waters said Monday that an agreement has been made with the current vendor to lease the space through the season.

There were many iterations of the deal, going back and forth, Rilling said Wednesday.

“This loan will be paid, it will be paid on time and it will be paid on a monthly basis with an annual 1 percent payment,” Rilling said. “It was a challenge and I recognize the issue, with some of the people who spoke against it. We certainly had our reservations but it is a park, it is a golf course, it is a gem in the City, it does bring people into the City of Norwalk. It is one of the City’s jewels and one of the things for which the City is known.”

35 comments

Roger February 14, 2019 at 8:17 am

Hey Paul! Hey BillMc!
Mike . . . Mike . . Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike.
Do you know what day it is?
It’s VIC-TOR-EEEE Day!

It reads like the Oak Hills Golf Course and the OHPA will be around for at least the next 30 years.

Bill McFarland February 14, 2019 at 8:28 am

” Rilling said. “If the city were to take over the running of Oak Hills Park, we would have to hire staff to maintain it. With the staff go benefits, workman comp issues and all other things which now fall under the responsibility of the Authority.

This is the real reason our elected City Officials keep giving the OHPA money! They are scared of all the extra work it may be to incorporate the operations of Oak Hills back into the City of Norwalk operations and carry it on the books of the CIty. Truly unbelievable, isn’t it better to have control of the operations of Oak Hills and spending rather then leave it up to the OHPA to do whatever they want and then come begging for funds? I guess it’s just easier to kick the inevitable can down the road….and give then another $83,000.

“This loan will be paid, it will be paid on time and it will be paid on a monthly basis with an annual 1 percent payment,” Rilling said. “ Sure it is and I have a bridge I’d like to sell the City of Norwalk too! Mr. Mayor, this loan WILL NOT be paid back, no way, no how.

I would truly hope that this is THE LAST TIME our elected officials, THE PEOPLE WE PLACE IN THIS POSITION TO PROTECT OUR FUNDS, handout taxpayer money to bailout the Oak Hills Park Authority! but, next year at this time I’m sure we will get some sort of sob story and another City of Norwalk check will be written. Think about it…The OHPA is now hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole, they owe the Norwalk Bank and Trust $200,000, they are behind in paying their creditors NOT INCLUDING THE CITY OF NORWALK TAXPAYERS all of which have to be paid back this year and they have worked out a deal with the restauranteur to pay a miniscual rent this year. One year of not paying back us taxpayers on the loan will NEVER be enough to get them into a position of financial means to start paying back the taxpayers and mark my words I will be writing this exact same post next year at this time when the OHPA can’t make payroll come February 2020. THe OHPA has not made any payments to the taxpayers the last 2 years and they are now in this position! why would anyone believe this will help?

I applaud Mr. Cantor and Ms. Lauper and all the rest who have the tenacity to voice your opinions to our ELECTED CITY OFFICIALS against this injustice but unfortunately it is totally falling on deaf ears as usual.

Tim Smith February 14, 2019 at 8:35 am

Great news. The city is finally realizing that the golf course does have potential and now has structured a deal in which it will receive a monthly and annual payment from the golf authority. Now, with payments not starting till July of 2020 the authority should establish strong budgets and hold expense spending to a minimum to build up capital for unforseeable projects or issues with weather causing revenue problems. From looking at the payroll expenses (provided from the authority revenue reports) this expense category continues to increase. Is the GM or finance manager montoring this? Are the correct policies in place to staff correctly? Is there a system to allocate a certain amount of employees per busy and slow times? Are full-time employee salaries capped? All questions the authority should be looking into.

Bill McFarland February 14, 2019 at 8:42 am

@Roger

This is no VIC-TOR-EEE, it is a stay in executaion as the OHPA is in a death spiral hole so deep that they will never be able to dig themselves out. Very similar to being in credit card debt.

The OHPA and the City of Norwalk kept this a secret as long as humanly possible as to not awake the suckers they call taxpayers. WE ARE ALL AWAKE NOW.

As I said in my last post Roger, I will be writing about this same situation next year at this time when the OHPA can’t make payroll….again.

Bryan Meek February 14, 2019 at 9:21 am

How do the golf course haters feel about the $3 million subsidy we give to our other parks every year, not to mention the $10s of millions in debt service over the last few decades? Should we just mothball the other parks too along with Oaks? We could have a new city motto “Park free, but don’t expect free parking”.

PIBerman February 14, 2019 at 10:40 am

Anyone who looks at the Oak Hill Financials knows the need for City bailouts. It’s election time. Golfers vote. What’s wrong with subsidies for well to golfers. What’s wrong with golfers having their own fabulous park. How CT’s “Greatest City” runs. City Hall likes golfers. Everyone likes golfers. Taxpayers like golfers.
Oak Hill employees like golfers. It’s a win win for everyone.

The sad part is that Oak Hills is the City’s most splendid park and most of the year its hardly used. It could be Nowealk’s “Gem”. But why complain.

carol February 14, 2019 at 10:43 am

here we go again-more money in the sand pit. when does this stop??? unless the taxpayers stand up for our rights,we will be taxes to death and oak hills will keep getting bailed out so a few “buddies”
can have there private play toy.
THIS IS A DISASTER AND IT KEEPS PLAYING OVER AND OVER.

Bill McFarland February 14, 2019 at 10:59 am

@Bryan

Do any of the rest of the parks in Norwalk get to spend whatever they want with no oversight from the City of Norwalk. The answer is NO. Do any of the other City parks have the revenue (or should I say potential revenue) that Oak Hills has? The answer is also NO.

@Tim you bring up a lot of good questions that the OHPA need to address. My question is why has this not been going on all along? maybe @Roger has the answer?

Lisa Brinton February 14, 2019 at 11:17 am

I am a golfer, but I too share concerns over Oak Hills and the financial burden it and the restaurant places on taxpayers, coupled with its underutilization as a wonderful park. However, what will be spent restructuring this loan is pennies compared to the liability Norwalk taxpayers will have with the Maritime Aquarium. See the other NON story where,

“ConnDOT requested that the City take over the responsibility of managing the funds for the project, on the grounds that the three-party relationship was too complicated.”

Read ‘complicated’ to mean ‘anticipated budget overruns.’ Of. Purse, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. The continued financial mismanagement of taxpayer funds never ceases to amaze me, but because the mayor ‘loves’ the city, it’s all ok. Silo management and lack of vision will run lifetime Norwalkers out of this city, until folks wake up.

Mike Mushak February 14, 2019 at 12:26 pm

A good solution for the city to consider for the future, that is both economically and environmentally sustainable, is reducing Oak Hills from 18 to 9 holes as many other municipalities around the country are doing (see info here: https://urbanland.uli.org/planning-design/golf-no-longer-hole-one/). This frees up about 60 acres of prime park land for other uses. Read on.

This solution basically cuts in half the costs of overall maintenance including mowing, fuel, watering, fertilizing, and pesticide applications, while reducing polluted runoff into groundwater and streams and eventually the Sound where all that nutrient-heavy water ends up, feeding algae blooms and dead zones every summer.

This solution may actually attract more golfers, as studies by the golfing industry show fewer golfers have the time or money anymore for a 4-hour commitment for 18 holes. If you want to play 18 holes you just go around twice.

By cutting maintenance costs in half, OHPA can finally sustain themselves independent of taxpayers, and the other 9 holes or about 60 acres can become other uses including my favorite idea, which is nature trails and birdwatching platforms in restored upland meadows (a shrinking habitat across the northeast with suburban sprawl) for endangered ground-nesting songbirds and pollinators, encouraging nature education from local schools.

This would also draw birdwatchers who may want to also visit the new birdwatching trails and viewing platforms I suggested for Manresa, for a double whammy of both seabirds and upland species in the same town just a few miles apart. If you think birdwatching and nature tourism sounds silly, just look at what Cape May County in NJ did by restoring degraded habitats into birdwatching destinations, and they are located on the same East Coast Atlantic Flyway migrating route as Norwalk is.

Birdwatchers now add over $300 million a year in economic activity to the Cape May area, including restaurants, hotels, and retail. Its all explained here http://blog.grdodge.org/2014/06/16/why-communities-should-invest-in-nature/. That would be a real big feather in Norwalk’s cap!

If public demand and the city budget and feasibility studies all justify it, perhaps a new grass soccer field (or two!), and/or a mountain bike course, can be added to all the new public parkland freed up by removing the 9 holes, in addition to the restored upland meadows previously mentioned. As a Planning Commissioner, I witnessed many public comments at a recent budget hearing explaining the intense scheduling pressures on our current ballfields, and soccer and girls softball were both mentioned as a big need. There already is plenty of parking and flat open land so it likely wouldn’t cost as much to install new athletic fields as it would in other locations around the city.

And dare I suggest that it would be fairly easy to install a golf driving range on one of the former fairways, requiring no expensive rock blasting or major regrading or tree removals as the previous plan did from the latest Oak Hills Master Plan from a few years ago. If a 9-hole course made the lifelong dream come true for so many to have a driving range at Oak Hills, thats not a bad tradeoff. Covered heated platforms and lighting could mean a popular year-round revenue source and one more fun recreational option for Norwalk residents. It may even draw more folks to the sport.

Here is an excerpt from the article linked in the first paragraph above, about how the golf industry is responding to a shrinkage in golf’s popularity and increased maintenance costs, by encouraging 9-hole golf courses to replace 18-hole courses:

“Many of golf’s stakeholders are advocating nine-hole golf, or “executive golf,” as it is called, for time-pressed players. Almost half of core golfers—age 6 and over, eight or more rounds a year—said that a round of four hours and 20 minutes is too long, according to a recent NGF survey. There are 4,175 stand-alone nine-hole golf facilities in the United States, or 27 percent of total supply, according to a 2014 study conducted by the NGF for the U.S. Golf Association (USGA). With the USGA’s launch of its “Play 9” campaign in July, more nine-hole courses may emerge in the future. “There is a trend: some people see a nine-hole course as having as much value as an 18-hole course,” says Richey of Toll Brothers. “A lot of people don’t have four hours to play 18 holes. The nine-hole course satisfies the needs and wants for green space and provides the same value of a view outside your window as if it were 18 holes,” he says.”

Bill McFarland February 14, 2019 at 2:07 pm

@Lisa

I’m not sure you completely understand the whole situation with the Oak Hills restaurant either. The OHPA has paid ZERO dollars towards its debt service regarding the restaurant building (and all other loans) at Oak Hills in the last 2 years. They have also received ZERO dollars in rental income on the building last year because they decided to make 1/3 of it a new “welcome center” leaving it unrentable for any sort of restauranteur to pay any substantial income they could have used for expenses, including paying back the taxpayers, because they didn’t think it was the right fit for the golfers. if the OHPA had received $100k in rent on the building and paid $100k on their debt service to the Taxpayers they would still be $200k+ in the red.

So, zero rent and zero income and they still are $200k or more in debt. They can’t make the numbers work. It’s like the building didn’t even exist, it has absolutely nothing to do with their financial issues.

But, you still have my vote because you at least acknowledge their is a problem there. It,s just not the restaurant building as so many like to blame.

cc-rider February 14, 2019 at 3:11 pm

M Mushak- none of the studies point to what cutting to nine holes does to the revenue side. I looked the last time this was debated and could not find a single 9 hole converted golf course that was made more profitable or that was written about.

Lisa Brinton February 14, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Thanks Bill 🙂 I have yet to see a full financial history or balance sheet of Oak Hills and the restaurant- but I fear, like everything else in this city, be it POKO, the past and future Maritime Center, SoNo CC, Innovation District and just about every parking lot given away in the city, etc. is a quizzical balance sheet of taxpayer woes. The silo management and lack of vision at city hall, coupled with 28% local election voter turnout is why taxpayers repeatedly find themselves behind the 8-ball.

John ONeill February 14, 2019 at 3:41 pm

I’m amazed at how many people are chiming in about Oak Hills, but no one seems to care about the deeply flawed Property Tax Revaluation appraisals..For every $ 30,000 your house is overvalued by the city costs you $500 per year. That’s a much bigger issue than Oak Hills.

Mike Mushak February 14, 2019 at 4:44 pm

@cc rider, you said “none of the studies points to what cutting to 9 holes does to the revenue side.” What studies? I didn’t refer to any, except prominent industry representatives including golf course developers who I could only assume know what they are talking about. And I’m sure the good folks on the OHPA would do their research if they were ever to consider this idea which I hope they would as they seem to be swimming upstream against a pretty fierce current of debt at this point.

According to the article I linked to in my comment above, almost a third of courses, over 4,000, in the US are 9-hole and the trend is more on the way, so I would imagine there are plenty of case studies to look at.

And if you cut your maintenance and watering and fertilizing costs in half by killing the expensive albatross of the 18-hole course, it seems revenue would be easy to achieve even if you are charging less per round but attracting more to the game as its cheaper and takes less time, just as the industry is recognizing.

And stick a year-round driving range into that equation, built easily on one of the existing fairways taken out of commission, and you may just get to that sweet spot of revenue where you could create one of the best 9-hole course in New England, as well pay off the $2 million debt, as well as as fund the maintenance of a soccer field or two, and the best birdwatching habitat in the area, and the tennis courts, all without costing taxpayers a penny and without anyone stressing about it every year.

Here’s a shorter version of the excerpt I already published in my previous comment, copied again to make a point;

“There are 4,175 stand-alone nine-hole golf facilities in the United States, or 27 percent of total supply, according to a 2014 study conducted by the NGF for the U.S. Golf Association (USGA). With the USGA’s launch of its “Play 9” campaign in July, more nine-hole courses may emerge in the future. “There is a trend: some people see a nine-hole course as having as much value as an 18-hole course,” says Richey of Toll Brothers. “A lot of people don’t have four hours to play 18 holes.”

Paul Cantor February 14, 2019 at 5:12 pm

“We are not forgiving the loan, we are forgiving the interest,” Livingston said.

How do your respond to a statement like that?

The OHPA (an autonomous body that represents the less than 10 percent of Norwalk residents that play golf) received a $2,200,000 subsidized low interest loan from taxpayers in 2014.

The Authority agreed to a fixed repayment schedule on that loan.

But because it could not make those agreed upon payments our elected officials reduced the requirements to do so four times. The last time was yesterday when it said, “Just pay us $2 a round until you have paid off the principle.”

So now, if even in the face of the steadily diminishing demand to play golf, 35,000 rounds are played each year at Oak Hills, the authority would be paying back $70,000 annually. And, at that rate it would return to taxpayers $2,200,000 in a bit over 31 years. But, of course, taking in account inflation that $2,200,000 would be worth far less than the money they were loaned. In other words, yesterday the loan we taxpayers provided the OHPA was turned into a substantial grant to it by our elected officials – a grant on top of the $1,500,000 grant it received from the state in 2014.

With that in mind, will the Authority actually end up paying the city $70,000 a year? As Bill McFarland points out in his comment above, the answer is: “probably no.” It will keep on losing money and hence keep on calling for more taxpayer bail outs despite the fact that unlike private courses it is operating on tax free land.

The implicit contract the OHPA had with the city was that it would not only cover the cost of the course but might even generate additional income that could be used for other purposes and thereby reduce the need for higher taxes. Hence, that would justify its utilizing nearly all the land in a public park for an 18-hole golf course.

But “hold on” says the Mayor, “doesn’t maintenance of a public park cost taxpayers money?” Of course. But not as much as an 18-hole golf course that requires million-dollar subsidies to cover its capital and operating costs. And all taxpayers would benefit from the park not just golfers.

Note: Norwalk’s wealthier neighbor, New Canaan, does not have a taxpayer subsidized municipal golf course. Therefore, New Canaan golfers very much appreciate that they can play at Oak Hills on Norwalk taxpayers’ dime. What New Canaan does have, however, is Waveny Park, a true public park near the heart of its city that according to New Canaan residents is “a fantastic asset to the community.” https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g33848-d1568941-Reviews-Waveny_Park-New_Canaan_Connecticut.html

Debora Goldstein February 14, 2019 at 5:30 pm

Everyone needs to stop pretending that the restaurant is the problem. That money was bonded and borrowed before the restaurant was even built. It would be owed even if the restaurant wasn’t built. Some of it should have been paid before the restaurant was built.

Maintaining the course to a “private” standard on “public” fees is the problem.

Bill McFarland February 14, 2019 at 5:46 pm

@Paul Cantor

I’m sorry to correct you but you and Mr. Mark Gartner (Financlial Controller of the OHPA) are somewhat incorrect in stating that Oak Hills Golf Course did 35,000 rounds of golf last season. According to the most recent financial statements they did 32,000 paid rounds and 3,000 free (comp and barter rounds) which should not be included in the total rounds number.

Why doesn’t Oak HIlls let everyone play for free, then they would probably do 100,000+ rounds a year and they could let everyone know they are the busiest golf course in the country!

Paul Cantor February 14, 2019 at 6:33 pm

@ Bill

Sorry for the mistake.

And I should have added that by increasing the price they will decrease the demand for rounds. What does that mean in terms of how much revenue they’ll end up with? Two economists have concluded that the price elasticity of demand to play golf is greater than one. What does that mean? It means if the OHPA tries to raise the price it charges for a round of golf the decrease in demand to play will
result in their losing money.

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.536.174&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Maureen Avery February 14, 2019 at 9:40 pm

The young people don’t have the time to play golf 4 hours ata time, the older population don’t have the stamina so 9 hole golf is the future. If youth activities were added the families would spend money at the food center. Soda at $1.50 a pop adds up. Hot dogs even more!

If people need space to play and willing to pay reasonable fees,should we consider fees for parking for the doggy park at Taylor? Parking pays well! There are many places to walk your dog besides dedicated space at the beach when parking is at a premium.

I support the golf course but it isa new time and new demands on time. We need to be creative.

Diane Lauricella February 15, 2019 at 12:24 am

“This was probably discussed at every other Finance Committee meeting that we had,” Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said.

Really Mr. Hempstead? What was NOT publicly discussed was the final proposed deal. That is a fact that all of the Council members should care about.

@MMushak Yes! I bet you did not know that a 9-hole course was proposed by citizens including Betsy Wrenn and others several years ago. The Authority at the time dismissed the idea and no one, including the City, even tried to discuss the topic, but glad that you see the logic and wisdom in its consideration.

I would also propose a community garden, public pool and seasonal outdoor ice skate ring be considered in the remaining 9-hole area!

cc-rider February 15, 2019 at 7:04 am

Paul- the answer is “dynamic pricing” for greens fees which is similar to what airlines charge for air fares. Many clubs across the country have adopted this pricing strategy. It makes sense and works. Look it up if you are so inclined.

Kevin Kane February 15, 2019 at 8:42 am

Two words: Broke Hills

Plow at least 1/2 of it under
Go 9 holes
I love trails and bike riding but not sure it would get a ton of use but at least that might stop the hemorrhaging.
Sell off some acres – $175,000 on realtor.com ought to free up a million or so: https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/7-Adams-Ln_Norwalk_CT_06850_M32981-43472?view=qv

Do what I recommended in 2014: do some R&D, that is Rip Off & Duplicate – build a pool and club like Ascension. Pay to play. It had a 3 year waiting list. I superimposed the Ascension footprint onto the area where the tennis courts are and it would fit without encroaching on the other holes.
I also asked for a 4 year project plan with full financials and volunteered to run it in Microsoft Project for full transparency. I said if anything, the golf committee should cast a wider net beyond golf and potentially add a pay to play pool facility so when people here Joke Hills, more than just golfers would defend and yes, even fund it. Response? Nada. Crickets.

Get out of the weather business, Norwalk. Mother Nature seems to get pissed and ruins your financials.

enough February 15, 2019 at 11:14 am

Selling off the property is a bad idea, we need more green space. I think a public pool, or more public facilities are a great idea.

Yvonne Lopaur February 15, 2019 at 12:22 pm

@Kevin Kane Your recommendation is for stealing the land that was bought by the State of Connecticut and given to Norwalk taxpayers to use as a public park.

@enough It is important to realize what Kevin Kane proposed was illegal and anti-public. I agree we need more green spaces.

@Mike Musak As Diane Lauricella pointed out, the idea of reducing the course to nine holes was suggested and turned down as far back as 2014. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/01/letter-hole-solution. –

And as for the suggestion of a driving range — the OHPA spent $20,000 on a National Foundation study that essentially concluded a driving range in Oak Hills would be another boondoggle to go along with the money losing golf course. Furthermore, a driving range does not belong in a public park located in a residential neighborhood.

The bottom line, as so many have indicated, Oak Hills should become a true public park like Waveny Park in New Canaan. That would put an end to the practice of using massive amounts of harmful chemical to maintain the fairways and greens of the money losing golf course that for too long has been the exclusive preserve of golfers. And that would open up the area to all the residents of Norwalk (including for golfers some section of the park might be set aside as a practice range) for a wide variety of environmentally friendly activities.

cc-rider February 15, 2019 at 12:34 pm

I altered the quote to show what Yvonne really meant to say, “Furthermore, a driving range does not belong in a public park located in my back yard!”

Bill McFarland February 16, 2019 at 4:36 pm

Hey @Bryan

That’s a great idea!! just first pay us taxpayers back on the defunct loan and USE YOUR OWN PERSONAL MONEY TO BUILD IT. Just remember everyone at our next election Mr. Meek is one of our wise ELECTED OFFICIALS.

Bryan Meek February 17, 2019 at 11:19 am

The golf course haters are the minority. Oak Hills, like the massively subsidized (in comparison) beaches, parks, playgrounds, lit athletic turf fields, boat launch, bike trails, bunk houses, mansion, is an attraction for the 1000s of golfers who use it and an asset for the city. Now that we have LPR tech at the beach, we’ll have real time data on how many unique residents use it for comparison to Oak Hills, which we know has 1000s of members.

A good way to increase costs exponentially would be for the city to take over operations once again. Calculating the per acre cost of maintenance of our other parks and extending that to Oak Hills (without a golf course) would cost the city roughly $1 million a year to maintain.

Seeing it was the city that sandbagged the golf course with the albatross of a restaurant that few wanted and fewer patronized, it is fitting justice to get reprieve from the debt. Build the range and light it up. A full service golf course will attract more golfers and enhance the city’s attractiveness to potential home buyers.

Bill McFarland February 18, 2019 at 10:06 am

Mr. Meek

Can you please explain to me how the restaurant is an “albatross” to the OHPA when they did not make any payments on the note associated with its construction the last 2 years and they are currently over $200,000 in debt not including whatever thousands of dollars they currently owe their creditors? they have paid zero and collected zero just like the restaurant building you call an albatross didn’t even exist.

Can you also explain how you believe a driving range will work at Oak Hills even though a paid professional expert hired by the OHPA says it will not? I assume you are not an expert but please correct me if I’m wrong.

Paul Cantor February 18, 2019 at 11:56 am

@ Bryman Meek

“The golf course haters are the minority.” Gratuitous statements like this don’t warrant a reply.

“Oak Hills, like the massively subsidized (in comparison) beaches, parks, playgrounds, lit athletic turf fields, boat launch, bike trails, bunk houses, mansion, is an attraction for the 1000s of golfers who use it and an asset for the city.”

Yes, golfers from Norwalk and surrounding communities play golf at Oak Hills. The percentage of Norwalk residents who golf at Oak Hills is 10% or less.

“Calculating the per acre cost of maintenance of our other parks and extending that to Oak Hills (without a golf course) would cost the city roughly $1 million a year to maintain.”

Nonsense on stilts. The annual maintenance costs of playing fields, picnic areas, a skate rink, racquetball courts, softball and baseball fields, picnic and exercise areas, a volleyball court, and even a practice area for golfers according to one source, might come to $150,000 if that much. The OHPA received a $2,200,000 loan that has essentially been turned into a grant from Norwalk taxpayers and a $1,500,000 grant from the state plus additional loans that have yet to be paid back. That is enough to cover 27 years of maintenance of the park for a wide variety of purposes (including a practice area for golfers) all taxpayers might enjoy. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/cost-analysis-for-improving-park-facilities-to-promote-park-based-physical-activity

“A full service golf course will attract more golfers and enhance the city’s attractiveness to potential home buyers.”

Norwalk already has two attractive full-service golf courses: Silvermine and Shorehaven.

Bryan Meek February 19, 2019 at 9:32 am

OHPA has paid on that debt since the beginning, sometimes keeping up, other times falling short. It was never tenable in the first place and shouldn’t punish residents who just want to play golf. I’m not even going to dignify comments from others who for some reason decided to buy a house across the street from a golf course then go on a 30 year tirade against it. Why not just move if it makes you that miserable? Life is too short.

Bill McFarland February 19, 2019 at 12:53 pm

@Mr. Meek and all who have any sort of vote on Oak Hills Park:

The OHPA was collecting a fair rent for many years from the original tenant and from the tenant they evicted until they wanted to make the new “Golf Pro Shop & Welcome Center”.

That rent, at least for the term of the first tenant for approximately 6 years was way MORE then enough to service the debt on the construction of that building – ALL WAS GOOD.

Fast forward to 2015, Golf is nationally been declining for years including at Oak Hills while the OHPA keeps improving the facility conditions so the click of Norwalk and surrounding town golfers like it. The OHPA is struggling to pay creditors especially the City of Norwalk and has to restructure the debt to the taxpayers 3 times over a 5 year period. Not knowing who to blame for the lack of funds to operate in the black(instead of themselves for overspending) the OHPA blames the construction of the horrible, over built, restaurant on the hill by the previous administration and the looming debt associated with it as to their money woes convincing many, not all, that the building is the cause of all the problems at the Park.

Now comes 2017 and the OHPA after bambooziling the State of CT to give them $1.5M in taxpayer funds to continue to improve golfing conditions, decides that a new welcome center should occupy 1/3 of the building and the OHPA also decides that the current tenant didn’t service the golfer food needs (no cheap fast bar type food and way too many catering events), it was time to evict the tenants, who were paying $6K a month enough to cover the portion of the note associated with the construction of the building, and occupy the bar space wanted (not needed) for the new Golf Pro Shop & Welcome Center.

What the OHPA didn’t expect was that NOBODY would want to lease the restaurant with 1/3 of the building occupied by the Welcome Center/Golf Pro Shop and they would receive $0 in rental income for the year of 2018. Add that to a couple years of rainy weather and over spending to make conditions like a private country club, and surprise, surprise the taxpayers of Norwalk can’t get reimbursed for the note!

As I said in my last post, the OHPA did not pay any portion of the principal in 2017 and any portion of the principal and interest portion of the note in 2018 associated with the restaurant building. They also did not receive any rental income on the building in 2018, so it’s like the building didn’t even exist and the OHPA still operated in the way into the red, over $200k to be exact. They can’t make the numbers work, it has NOTHING to do with the restaurant building. The problems lie with the operators of the park, not what you describe as the albatross on the hill.

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