Mr. Dickens, the chair of the Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA), claims the golf course in Oak Hills Park is a business. But if that were true it would have been bankrupt long ago.
The golf course is not a business. It is a taxpayer subsidized gift to golfers that is a prime example of special interest politics. And the OHPA’s primary function is to serve as a lobby for those golfers.
Unfortunately, the local press has never given that story the attention it deserves. If it did more people would realize user fees paid by golfers never remotely covered the operating and capital costs of the golf course. And that despite the fact that the course is situated on hundreds of acres of tax-free land purchased by the State in 1967 and granted to the city to be used “for conservation, recreational and open space purposes.”
In other words, Oak Hills was meant to be a public park like Wavenly in New Canaan. Wavenly has ball fields, picnic areas, jogging trails, platform tennis courts, a swimming pool, picnic areas, a dog park and even a practice area for golfers. But under pressure from a well-organized special interest group of golfers, local politicians turned the park into a golf course. They did so in order to earn the golfers’ votes and/or because, like former Mayor Alex Knopp, they were avid golfers themselves.
Then with the support of local officials who provided it with millions of taxpayer dollars the authority cut down hundreds of trees in Oak Hills, poured hazardous chemicals all over its grounds and warned the nine out of ten taxpayers who don’t play golf to stay out of the park. And in addition, it tore down a delightful restaurant in a quaint stone building and replaced it with the much larger structure that it never has been able to rent for enough money to cover the cost of the taxpayer subsidized loan it took out to construct.
In summary, at the ongoing expense of taxpayers Oak Hills Park has been turned into a golf course. Those that benefit from it are golfers from Norwalk’s wealthier surrounding communities and the one out of ten residents that play golf. Those that lose out are the nine out of ten Norwalk taxpayers who don’t play golf and would benefit from a park that was maintained in an environmentally friendly manner to meet a wider variety of recreational needs.
Clearly, therefore, despite the current controversy regarding the OHPA’s inability to find a restaurateur willing to take the place of the owner of The Clubhouse Grille and provide food for hungry golfers, it’s not just about the restaurant.