Letter: Keep West Norwalk jewel, ignore special interest minority

By Paul  Cantor

To the Editor:

NORWALK, Conn. – The controversy over whether or not to construct a driving range in Oak Hills Park provides an object lesson in how special interest politics undermines your and my welfare.

Golfers, a special interest minority (less than 10 percent of the population plays golf), want the driving range for two reasons.  First it will enable them to practice their swing and/or warm up before a round of golf.  Second, they think it may generate enough revenue to help alleviate the financial problems faced by the 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park.

And politicians pander to golfers in order to buy votes with taxpayer dollars as long as the public at large is not paying attention.  Hence, for example, you hear Common Council member after Common Council member refer to the 18-hole money-losing golf course in Oak Hills as a “jewel” to be salvaged.  But the real jewel from the point of view of the non-golfing public is not the golf course but the precious 144 acres of land on which it sits.  That land can and should be turned into a multiuse public park that might include a nine-hole or smaller facility for golfers.

A public park is open to everyone, not only golfers, and its benefits are immeasurable.  That is the reason you find them in New York, Paris, Prague, Venice, Rome and all the other great cities of the world.  In parks but not on golf courses you come across families with children, people in wheelchairs, readers on benches by water fountains, ball players, joggers, roller bladders, skate boarders, dog walkers, community gardens, bikers, picnickers, sun bathers, nature trails, etc.

Nevertheless the Oak Hills Park Authority, the body that has been placed in charge of Oak Hills Park, argues an 18-hole golf course with a large driving range should be favored over a multi-use public park because it does not cost taxpayers anything.    But in the case of golf course in Oak Hills Park that is not true.

Indeed because there has been a decrease in the demand to play 18 rounds of golf and because it has had to compete with better-managed courses in its vicinity the golf course in Oak Hills has been and is losing money.  Consequently the Oak Hills Park Authority has not made good on its promises to meet its obligations on millions of dollars of tax payer subsidized loans.   Now it claims a driving range constructed and operated by a private firm will help it solves its financial problems.

Fat chance.   One thing is sure however.  A large ugly driving range will not add to the sparkle of the jewel that is Oak Hills Park.

Paul  Cantor


7 responses to “Letter: Keep West Norwalk jewel, ignore special interest minority”

  1. Charles

    It seems to me that the special interest group is not the golfers. Both of the polls run to see if there was support for the range even the one by The West Norwalk Assoc. show that people are in favor of the range 70% for and 30 % against.

  2. Suzanne

    The only people paying attention to those polls were the golfers. Both highly nonscientific and especially with the WNA, presented information that was inaccurate as to the impact and reason for a driving range at the Park. Those polls meant precisely nothing and could have been asking about the weather. They have exactly zero impact as to the real details and issues surrounding the establishment of a driving range at Oak Hills Park.

  3. Debora

    The decision isn’t up to the golfers, the opposition or to the polls. There are long-standing legal obligations that govern the development of the tract of land known as oak hills park. These begin with a state grant that partly funded the purchase of the land to create the park. OHPA and the City are currently in violation of the post-grant obligations of that grant by operating a restaurant in the park without arranging to segregate the restaurant from the park and replace it with additional land of comparable value. This is a breach of the lease between ohpa and the city.
    The city’s charter specifies golf, tennis and other recreational activities. It is hard to see how ohpa can meet the obligation for “other” activities if the remaining land not already dedicated to golf or tennis is now turned over to golf.

    Then there is the lease itself which requires the ohpa to pay for all of the maintenance and the bonds issued to pay for their activities, along with rent to the city. It also calls for adherance to a Master Plan for the park that calls for, among other things, a marketing plan, a list of multiple others uses for the park like hiking, winter skiing and more.

    The ohpa defaulted on payments, has sought (and received) a loan from the city for operating expenses, delivered a Master Plan years after it was required under the lease, and continues to operate

  4. Debora

    On a Master Plan that was predicated on a traffic study conducted in 2003. It is unclear whether it is providing the city with updates on progress against the Master Plan every six months while capital improvements are underway (triggered when the ohpa sought bids to build the drving range?)
    I don’t think it unreasonable to require that ohpa be asked to get its fiscal and operational house in order before it spends one more red cent of taxpayer money on anything else, borrows more money for a capital project, promises future revenues to a developer or risks serious financial consequences like repayment of a state grant that predates the existance of tthe ohpa.

  5. Piberman

    Oak Hills raises two separate issues. First, the City’s ruling elite favors subsidizing golfers. Those who disagree with that subsidy have an opportunity this fall to register their disapproval. Second, is whether there are any constraints on use of Public lands from an environmental view. The lack of any environmental studies (or even a detailed financial study) suggests he ruling elite feel completely unconstrained by environmental concerns. Fortunately there is a body of environmental regulation and law to which cozens may seek relief. But that will take a citizen wide effort. Why should we be surprised that a City elite that bestowed the “Big Box Alley” on Route 1 have any concerns with destroying a large stand of mature trees in our largest park ? Indeed, a City that failed to protest Big Box Alley and its new sister on Rt 7 may well deserve having its remaining forests destroyed. Failing to take an active interest in City governance does have consequences. Trees don’t vote. So far the Democrat “opposition” to be charitable is out to lunch here. The smart money favors the golfers because there is no organized and effective opposition towards destroying our trees in our largest park. Who knows maybe next year our civic leaders will propose an amusement park to further subsidize golfers. Or a skating rink.
    Maybe a “nature park”. The possibilities are endless. Those who care about preserving forests know what to do – get out the vote to support like minded candidates running for office. If they can be found.

  6. Suzanne

    Wow! Friends of Oak Hills have been under constant criticism for their activism to try and save those woods in Oak Hills. I think you have been on vacation for a very long time – the group is extremely active with a large petition, active, on Moveon.org , its own WEB Site and weekly meetings at the site in addition to ongoing strategic planning. Someone from this group attends EVERY public meeting about Oak Hills and speaks. Countless letters have been published in the Hour, Daily Voice and Nancy on Norwalk. Matt Miklave has come out vocally against destroying the woods and erecting a driving range at Oak Hills. This is certainly not uninformed governance by the constituency – rather, it represents the best of activism among Norwalk citizens on many levels. I would advise a search on any of the publications mentioned or WEB Sites and you will find a group that is passionate about saving the habitat at Oak Hills.

  7. EveT

    The West Norwalk Assn. poll had only about 200 respondents, and the area designated as “West Norwalk” does not include all of the homes bordering on Oak Hills Park. As if nobody outside of what they classify as West Norwalk is a stakeholder in this issue.

    Also, their poll did not give a choice between building a driving range on land already developed as part of the golf course versus building a driving range in the wooded area where the nature trails are. The poll was as nonscientific as the daily polls run by newspapers like The Hour.

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