Bidding closed – Norwalk Oak Hills woods may be axed for driving range

This area behind the cart barn at Norwalk Oak Hills Park golf course is where Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions is proposing to put a driving range.

NORWALK, Conn. – Two men are vying for the right to build a driving range at Norwalk’s Oak Hill Park – one has his sights set on the woods specified by the Oak Hills Park Authority, while the other has chosen what he said is a more environmentally friendly location.

Tad King of King Golf International and Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions are the only bidders to respond to the Oak Hills Park Authority request for proposal. The bidding closed at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The deadline for proposals was pushed back twice. Downing made the second deadline, on May 22. King’s proposal came in for the June 5 deadline.

Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desroches did not yet have a timeline for reviewing the proposals Thursday.

“We are discussing the next steps, which will include having the ad hoc committee meeting to discuss the bids in a working session similar to when we put the RFP together to figure out what we have,” he said in an email.

King said in an email that his practice facility would be “located in the authority’s preferred location, the land north of the restaurant.”

An addendum to the RFP describes the space available in that spot, which opponents to the project describe as a ravine, thick with woods and boulders.

“The size of the undeveloped proposed project area is approximately 450 feet (150 yards) wide by approximately 900 feet (300 yards) deep,” the addendum says. “It is anticipated that the completed golf practice range facility would be somewhat smaller approximately 330 feet (110 yards) wide and 810 feet (270 yards)]deep in order to allow for some buffer zones.”

King’s proposed range would be 115 yards wide and 240 yards long and would have 41 hitting bays, he said in an email.

Downing plans to put his range in the alternative location spelled out in an RFP addendum. That spot is near the cart barn and the sixth green, a teaching area used by the golf pro.

“It doesn’t impede on anybody’s property, it doesn’t butt up to anything,” he said. “There’s no wetland problems. I think it’s the cleanest place on the property to put it.”

The authority’s specified location didn’t work for him, he said.

“We think it’s a little too expensive,” he said. “Environmentally, you’re knocking down a lot of stuff. … I think there’s a lot of things that you have to do in order to build a driving range in that area. Maybe Tad thought of a great place, a great way to do it, that is cost effective. Maybe that’s good. For us, the way we look at it we thought this was a better place, a better flow of traffic.”

By that he meant a better path for people walking from the parking lot. People would move through the area in a more efficient way, he said.

Driving range opponent Paul Cantor sent emails Thursday looking for answers to questions that included: How is the bidder going to finance the construction of the driving range?  How big is the driving range going to be?   How much will the bidder pay to rent the property?  What percentage of the driving range’s gross revenues has s/he agreed to share with the OHPA?

Norwalk Purchasing Agent Gerald Foley said he could not provide answers.

“The proposal submissions received as a result of this solicitation will not be released to the public until after an award recommendation has been issued,” he said in an email. “This is the standard practice for all submissions received by the city.”

King refused to answer the questions when posed by NancyOnNorwalk.

“Construction and operations launch will be funded privately,” he said in an email. “I’m sorry, but I prefer not to comment on the financials until after negotiations have been completed.”

Downing said he didn’t have answers to the financial questions.

“We haven’t talked to the city about any of that yet so we haven’t got any idea of what they want,” he said.

The RFP for the range, which is hoped to bring Oak Hills into the black, is vague on the topic of revenues.

“The minimum level of compensation has not been set,” it says. “It is anticipated that acceptance of any proposed compensation offers would be dependent on the responses to the RFP and the subsequent discussions of the selection committee.”

The RFP stipulates respect for the park’s environment.

“It is critical that the environmental impact be as low as possible,” it says. “This must be a critical part of any successful proposal. OHPA would like to obtain an Audubon Designation for this new range.”

There will be at least one public hearing on the proposal, the RFP states. Depending on the scope of the project there may be more.

“Generally speaking it is anticipated that the Planning and Zoning Commissions and the Conservation Commission, among others, may be involved with the review process,” it states.

There is a timeline for construction in the RFP.

“Our expectations are that the successful proposer, once authorized to commence, would immediately commence the permit processes,” it states. “With the ultimate goal of commencing the construction process in the fall, 2013.”


4 responses to “Bidding closed – Norwalk Oak Hills woods may be axed for driving range”

  1. Joe Espo

    The driving range can’t get built fast enough!

  2. Suzanne

    Further deterioration to ALL Norwalk citizens for free use of a public park. The private-club at a public park golfers want every inch of space that is supposed to be shared. Besides the environmental impact, the location debacle includes inadequate parking and, so, insufficient ease of access to all of those eager golfers waiting to whack a few next to homes and wetlands. Not counting on it, but would like to see the OHPA make a WISE decision and go with the lower impact, ease of access location behind the cart shed being presented. Site prep would be less expensive, operations easier and whatever possible monies that are supposed to be realized, as yet not calculated or unknown by the OHPA, would be gained more quickly with less upfront capital development costs.

  3. Don’t Panic

    Another plan that amounts to “build it and they will come” like the restaurant before it. The loss of the natural land would be tragic. The OHPA should not be permitted to submit plans for any more development until they’ve demonstrated that they will manage new plans in a fiscally responsible manner.

  4. Joe Norwalk

    Just another giveaway of city property to a developer that will result in nothing but another problem for the City. Part of Crescent Street was given to Spinnaker for 95/7 where nothing has been built for years. The municipal parking lot was given to Ken Olsen/Poko and now they are trying to charge citizens to park there instead of doing what they said they were going to do: develop the property. Our highly paid professionals in the city gave away the land with no “clawback” provisions, so the developers can sit on it and not develop it, or sell it, or whatever. Now, the incompetent OHPA is going to give away park land and create yet another bad deal for taxpayers to bail out.
    If this driving range fails and the taxpayers have to bail out OPHA one more time, we need to insist on shutting the golf course down and turning it back into a city park available to all citizens of Norwalk and not just the corrupt OPHA gang and a bunch of out of town golfers.

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