Letter: The drive for the driving range

By Paul Cantor

To the Editor:

Hop in the golf cart, taxpayers of Norwalk, the Oak Hills Park Authority wants to take you for a ride.

The Oak Hills Park Authority is the autonomous body set up by your elected officials to manage Oak Hills Park in the interest of golfers. Why in the interest of golfers and not in the interest of all the citizens of Norwalk? Because golfers are a well-off, well-organized special interest group, and politicians, many of whom are golfers themselves, realize that pandering to well-off, well-organized special interest groups is the expedient thing to do if you want to get elected.

Nationwide, because golf is expensive to play in terms of both time and money, less than 10 percent of the population plays golf. Yet it is the interest of this relatively well-off minority that the Oak Hills Park Authority seeks to promote at the expense of all the taxpayers of Norwalk. Hence, its drive for a driving range.

The driving range, the Authority maintains, will enable it to cover the costs of its money-losing 18-hole golf course. But it is not in the interest of the public to help the Authority find ways to subsidize an 18-hole golf course that, due to a lack of demand and/or mismanagement, can’t cover its costs.

Oak Hills is a public park. It is one of only two parks with more than 100 acres in Norwalk. But because almost all of the land in Oak Hills is devoted to golf it cannot be used for other activities that are favored by the majority of taxpayers. And to make matters worse, despite the fact that the golf course is situated on tax-free land and has received low-interest loans from the city (taxpayer subsidies to golfers), it has been losing money.

Therefore, last year the Authority came to the city for an additional low-interest loan to cover its operating costs at the same time it was struggling to meet its obligations on millions of dollars of other loans it had to restructure. Now it thinks a driving range constructed by a private developer is the answer to its financial problems.

But if driving ranges were as lucrative as some on the Authority maintain, private developers would be buying up land and constructing them everywhere. The fact that is not happening, therefore, is an indication that a driving range is as likely to add to the Authority’s financial problems as to solve them.

Worse still, the 36-bay structure the Authority hopes to have constructed would destroy the pristine setting of park and thereby drive many golfers away from playing at Oak Hills. That is just one more reason to suspect the proposed driving range is as likely to aggravate as to alleviate the financial problems faced by the Authority.

Nevertheless, because the Oak Hills Park Authority is currently composed of political appointees grasping at straws to promote the interests of golfers at the expense of all the taxpayers of the city, it seeks to have a driving range built whatever the cost to the park’s landscape, the residential quality of the neighborhood in which it is situated, the environment and non-golfers access to the park.

Therefore, in order to prevent that from happening, taxpayers should demand that the mayor and members of the Common Council appoint to the Authority individuals who represent their interests and not just the interest of the minority that play golf. Or, alternatively, they should demand that the Authority be disbanded and that the city’s Recreations and Park Authority manage the land in Oak Hills Park in the interest of all the taxpayers of the city.

In short, from the point of view of taxpayers as a whole, the Oak Hills Park Authority is a rogue elephant that needs to be tamed or eliminated.


3 responses to “Letter: The drive for the driving range”

  1. Tom Reynolds

    I have not been in Norwalk very long, but I believe it is true that the OHPA covers all of it’s expenses (not by much, but it covers them). I also believe it is true that the OHPA pays back on whatever loans it takes from the city. I am not sure that is the case with other Authorities in Norwalk. Maybe we should be looking elsewhere other than Oak Hills to pick on. No tax money goes to Oak Hills. It pays for itself.

  2. Debora

    Check the history in the papers. OHPA had only been covering is costs on a current basis for a very short period of time and that is mostly because the weather has been good th is year.

  3. Diane C2

    @Tom Reynolds – sad day in Norwalk when taxpayers question the motives and fiduciary responsibilities of an Authority charged with being the steward of a public park and it is seen as ‘picking on them’. What’s at stake is not some childish whine but rather a test of the very processes and systems that guarantee we residents maintain control over the current and future use (land and activities) of our open space and parks.
    Tom, I want to point out that you say “you believe” they cover all their expenses, and perhaps those very words speak volumes to the underlying issues with the Authority – no one can really be sure they know what’s going on there, when, in the past, the Authority has been in financial straits and simply chose not to include a Treasurer’s report in monthly meetings, in fact leading up to the now infamous operating expenses loan. And no one saw the huge missed loan payment coming back a few years ago!
    Once again, in the end, this saga will be far less about the merits or location or financial viability of a driving range, and much, much more about how residents/taxpayers are blocked from information ; about secretive “ad-hoc committee” meetings and illegal executive sessions; about how seemingly innocuous Common Council actions like establishing Authorities and can create autonomous monsters that they end up deeming “too big to fail”; and yes, about how facts and data sometimes matter less than who is the bigger bully in the “picking on them” game.

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