Letter: Stay away from Oak Hills Kool-Aid

By Scott Kimmich

NORWALK, Conn. – Hayden “Bud” Taylor scoffs at the trees in the area where the Oak Hill Park Authority wants to build a driving range, in his July 29 letter to The Hour: “They do little to enhance the environment. Granted there are some wonderful trees that would have to be sacrificed, but their removal would allow the sun to cause better growth in the lower part of the area and eventually we would have a better buffer as a result.”

A better buffer from what? Right now there is a beautiful woodland that needs no buffer. It is an environmental asset, not a liability, and should not be “sacrificed.”

Presumably,  Mr. Taylor means a buffer to hide the hideous sight of poles and nets at least 50 feet high, around a range that does absolutely nothing to enhance the environment and does everything to ruin it.  Moreover, the planned range leaves no room for a true buffer, and how long would the neighbors have to wait until the so-called buffer “eventually” forms? Like the animals displaced by the range, those neighbors will have long moved away.

Take the wetland that Mr. Taylor describes: “… a pond only when we have heavy rain.” This is not factually accurate. The pond is a typical seasonal New England wetland that wanes in the summer when there is less rainfall overall. As such, it contributes a valuable ecosystem to our environment. That is why wetlands are protected throughout the state, and that is why the diehards on the OHPA are not going to have their way. Their plan is an environmental disaster.

Only two contractors have bid on the driving range. One refuses to build on the woodland site because it is environmentally and financially unsound.  This contractor specializes in building and managing driving ranges and is well aware of the problems of siting them.

What about the only other bidder, the one who would trash the woodland? Most of his more limited experience is building golf courses, not driving ranges, and recently he has been concentrating  on building them in Egyptian deserts. Where is his environmental concern? Where is his conscience?

Let’s be clear, once and for all. A driving range is not an environmental paradise. And if, as has recently happened in Norwalk, we go through the trouble of demolishing an area only to find that the developer has weaseled out, we are stuck with a mini environmental disaster motivated by self-interest and fuzzy thinking.

Come on, citizens of Norwalk, are we going to let ourselves be taken for another ride?

Scott Kimmich


10 responses to “Letter: Stay away from Oak Hills Kool-Aid”

  1. Norwalk Lifer

    But it’s so much more important for those agents of nature, humans, to pick up a metal rod with an expensive piece of graphite at the end of it, and send a pock marked little white ball soaring thru the heavens.

    Trees don’t matter, they just sustain life

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Debora

    The woodlands should be protected from further development. The OHPA should refrain from any more development until it has demonstrated that it is capable of practicing good fiscal management and that it understands its obligations under the charter. Golf is only one of three items set out as a use for the park. Tennis and other recreational activities are the other two. If the last ten acres are removed for golf prposes, OHPA will be unable to deliver upon the third item. It will have turned a park with golf into a private golf course funded by the taxpayers.

    And where are the development funds to come from, given that OHPA had to borrow operating funds from the city to continue its activities?

    Most private companies seek to make sure they are on sound financial footing before embarking on an expansion. Has OHPA published a solid business plan for the driving range (regardless of location) or is the strategy “build it and they will come” as it was with the restaurant?

  3. Suzanne

    The answer, Debora, is “NO, they have not published a solid business plan” for the driving range at Oak Hills. They have published their wishes and hopes: hopes that the developer will create the driving range at their expense, hopes that they will then share the revenues with the OHPA, hopes that the attendance and usage will be so grand they will realize……well, THAT part is a little fuzzy. That is, revenues, just how much capital costs to develop the range and projected revenues enough to support the debt on the Golf Course, have NEVER been released.

    Perhaps a metaphor: it would be like saying I am going to build a food stand at a Super Fund site and, with all of its complications, we aren’t sure how much it will cost but the food will be so good, why people will just come, they will pay for this food at an environmentally suspect site and, gee, they will eat enough to pay for the polluted remediation to bill the food stand in the first place. Why? Oh, because eating food is important, it’s fun and they will come.
    The proposal at Oak Hills is no less ridiculous.

    Mr. Kimmich is correct in his assessment of the irrevocable damage this play thing, this driving range will cost to not just the environment, not just the property values of the surrounding neighborhood, but all of Norwalk when the cost comes home to our pocket books as so many costs from the golf course has come home to all of Norwalk taxpayers in the past because of the poor management of this OHPA.

    The OHPA can keep dragging their feet, postponing meetings, limiting release of information to the public but the bottom line is the concern for these woods and the lack of financial soundness with this driving range project is NOT GOING TO GO AWAY. Over one hundred acres is devoted, right now, to golf. Apparently, the youth of our community are still winning plenty of awards and notoriety without a range and apparently people are still playing the course, though not enough, without the range and have been for many, many years. This wish, this driving range want, is not a need but a desire to make things more convenient for a very few people who have access to a place that is SUPPOSED to be accessible to every Norwalk citizen. Why should they get more? Why should Norwalk sacrifice its funds and its environment so this game can be played by a few? It’s a ridiculous consideration that should die an expedient death. The OHPA needs to either manage what they have successfully to charter or find a management company that can. Forget this silly, wishful debacle waiting to happen.

  4. Dana

    Yes the very pond Mr. Kimmich is referring to is a vernal pool and I am glad he is bringing to the forefront the importance of it and that they are protected throughout the state. This is a valuable ecosystem with much diversity and, therefore, cannot be destroyed.

  5. What a great strategy!

    The Friends brilliant “strategy” to build public support – trash the neighbors who actually live next door to the course! Who is your public relations advisor?

  6. Suzanne

    Dana, I had an expert on Vernal Pools from a company near Hartford come out and look at that area where the stream and pond are. While there are plenty of wetlands there, upon which there should absolutely be NO encroachment, it is not a vernal pool. The depth of the area is not great enough to support egg laying and hatching required by an indicator species, a type of salamander. If it was a vernal pool (and how I wish that!), the consideration of this area would have been null and void long ago. The fact that there is a stream, wetlands and pond, however, makes it no less valuable a habitat and no less a reason it should NOT be destroyed.

  7. piberman

    Maybe Nancy could organize a “vote” for her readers on the Oak Hills proposal. And maybe the 4 candidates could again be asked their position. Mayor Moccia is on record I believe as voting for the range. All things considered the Oak Hill question could be thee pivotal issue in the upcoming campaign. Imagine the “environment” as a legitimate campaign issue. Maybe we are “moving Norwalk forward” !

  8. EveT

    Why are there only two developers bidding on the driving range? Why does the one that proposes destroying the woods have no experience in actually building and operating driving ranges? Where did the committee find these vendors?

    Even if Mr Taylor was right that this woodland area was nothing special for the environment (and I think he is wrong, as Mr Kimmich says), shouldn’t Norwalk taxpayers be assured we will not once again go through the trouble of demolishing an area only to find that the developer has weaseled out, and we are stuck with yet another hole in the ground?

  9. Debora

    Those are all good questions Eve T.

    The fact of the matter is that this could turn out to be worse than those holes in the ground everybody is talking about. This particular property is completely owned by the city tax payer and we’re not trading one empty building for a hole in the ground.

    We’re trading valuable environmental land for a possible hole in the ground and once those trees are cut down they cannot be replaced. This is an irreversible decision and its really should be made with all the stakeholders in mind.

  10. Suzanne

    Dear “What a great strategy!”: What do you mean by your comment? The neighbors have nothing but support from the Friends of Oak Hills who have been vociferous in their concern over not only the woodland but the drastic transformation a driving range would mean to their dwellings and the resulting lower values their homes would realize. A clear-eyed view of the area cavalierly slated to be destroyed by the OHPA and their driving range would drastically alter a quiet, peaceful place of repose into a treeless, denuded view of huge nets and the sound of repeated thwacks of golf balls. I would think this is of material concern to the neighbors (as has been expressed in public meetings about the proposed driving range site) and not something to criticize at all. Rather, in protecting the woods, there is a protection of the neighbors that border those woods both for the value of their homes and their soundness of mind, a large paved, netted, loud facility vs. the quiet of peaceful woods with adjacent streams, a pond and wetlands.

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