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It’s not just about the restaurant

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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.

Paul Cantor

16 comments

Tysen Canevari December 22, 2020 at 5:23 pm

Paul Cantor gets very boring with the same old story. Comparing Oak Hills to Waveny? Did you protest over there when they built the ball fields? Your complaints fall on deaf ears all the time. BLAH BLAH BLAH

M Murray December 23, 2020 at 8:13 am

While this may be somewhat true, it would be no different than taxpayer subsidized beaches, softball fields, bus services, commuter trains, playgrounds, hiking trails, soccer fields, or any other taxpayer subsidized recreational activity. Except maybe the participants pay more to use the subsidized facility. Maybe they should charge entry to the hiking trails at oak hills to help pay for the park upkeep

stuart garrelick December 23, 2020 at 9:34 am

Mr. Cantor has been an adversary of Oak Hills for as long as I can remember, painting it as a tax subsidized venue for the wealthy. Oak Hills is much more than that. It is a treasure that we are fortunate to have in our city, available to rich and poor alike. Mr. Cantor can sit in the parking lot and observe there are many more Toyotas and Fords than Rolls Royces. And while he is there he can check out the youth programs. I would maintain that Oak Hills enhances the quality of life opportunities in Norwalk just like our beaches, parks, concert halls, etc. It enhances the value of our properties and quality of life.
I agree Oak Hills should be run aw a business, subsidized as needed. But let’s remove the restrictions that have hampered trying for financial stability. Let’s have a driving range with the necessary lighting as a money maker. I currently drive to Stamford and often wait on line to use their driving range. And if we want a restaurant to be economically viable then let them feature evening entertainment without holding them to “noise” restrictions that do not apply in other areas. The chosen few are not the golfers but the property owners who want to control their environment and live in sublime serenity, unlike the rest of us.

Layne Evans December 23, 2020 at 10:56 am

I don’t think this comment is boring or falling on deaf ears (well, some of the ears may be deaf), I think it’s a really good point. As a taxpayer and a walking-distance neighbor, I think we all have every bit as much right to enjoy that beautiful PUBLIC place as the golfers do.

David Osler December 23, 2020 at 5:15 pm

I have played golf I’m not an avid golfer and we have a park by my house it was probably the most underutilized parking the entire city the amount of subsidation to taxpayer value that oak hills gets is highly questionable a better use would be to allow the creation of a private club to lease it from the city giving us a higher level of prestige and removing the overall cost of operating the golf course from the cities tax payers

John Miller December 23, 2020 at 7:26 pm

@Tyson: You are correct that it’s been the same old same old with Mr. Cantor for so many years that it lacks any credibility. What is even less credible is an academic economist working for an insolvent State who thinks he knows what is and is not a business. Keep in mind that AOC has a degree in economics from Boston University. Case closed.

John O'Neill December 25, 2020 at 12:03 pm

I will not claim to know the finances of Oak Hills so I can’t intelligently comment on specifics. However, what is definitely true is Mr. Cantor has been an opponent of Oak Hills for as long as I can remember. Therefore, it is impossible to think his comments are balanced. The facts as I know them are:
1) It’s not just the 1%ers that use the facility. Although I don’t play golf I walk Oak Hills more days than I don’t. The golfers are a cross section of the city. While it may not be used by all Norwalkers, neither are many other events sponsored by the city.
2) Do the fees need to be tweaked? Yes, but not blown up
3) Should we cut down every tree on the course? Of course not, but a selective pruning never hurt. Maybe our friends in California can borrow Eversource chain saws during the offseason..
4) The Restaurant — In my opinion it is about the restaurant. The albatross that was built by Alex Knopp and his Democrat comrades was ridiculous. I would argue that we should shift our energies to pushing Alexander to compensate Norwalk for that incredible waste of taxpayer funds. The time and money to try to get under that economic disaster is draining both financially and practically.
5) Time to move forward — Let’s finally get someone who understands how to make a restaurant work. Hell, there’s enough successful players in Norwalk. BUT, we need to give them some freedoms to make it work. Gov’t officials know almost nothing about running a business. Let’s put this into the hands of those who do..
6) One final thought on Oak Hills — I’ve been walking the area for years. My compliments to the Groundskeeper and his staff. That place has never looked this good…

John Miller December 25, 2020 at 2:46 pm

@David. You must have taken one of Cantor’s economics classes because you don’t know what you are talking about when you claim that Oak Hills is subsidized by the taxpayers. It is not.

DryAsABone December 27, 2020 at 8:46 am

I take it that Mr. Cantor is not a golfer.
…”for conservation, recreational and open space purposes.”
It sure seems that at least two of the three original goals have been met.
Never played there and hope to one day when/if I can get a tee time that works.

Bill Waters December 27, 2020 at 9:29 am

Blah, Blah, Blah.
Blah, Blah, Blah.
Blah. Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.
Same old story. Oak Hills is always going to be a golf course, tennis and nature trail facility.
The author of this letter actually called the Connecticut Attorney General and asked for the State NOT to give the grant money that was used to enhance the park.
NOTE: If some of the changes he suggests were to actually be implemented, the City of Norwalk would have to PAY BACK the grant money to the State. Think about how that would go over!

Karl M. Deering December 29, 2020 at 1:54 pm

When the first OHPA tried to have a say as to how the inside of the restaurant was going to be, everything was shot down by the West Norwalk Assoc, of course once they started screaming Mayor Knopp and local officals caved to the pressure. Only tables , no bar, they cried !!!!!! So now Mr. Cantor says it is the restaurant that’s the problem when he and the West Norwalk Assoc created this baddly set up restaurant. That my friends is the problem ! PS. I don’t have a dog do I complain about not using Taylor Farm , NO !!!

Bryan Meek December 30, 2020 at 8:08 am

“ 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.”

Let me correct this please.

The local press has given far more attention to this than it deserves because one person who bought his house next to the golf course that was already there has had nothing but venom for it course through his veins to the point he resorts to constructing bogus facts and data to suit his vendetta.

There you go and a little free advice….move already if you hate it so much. Life is too short and you don’t need to have taken Econ 101 to know that anyone holding property in West Norwalk for 30 plus years has seen considerable appreciation in their real estate to afford to move somewhere else and find something new to hate.

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