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Norwalk Council approves $4.3 million Oak Hills master plan

NORWALK, Conn. – The Oak Hills Park Master Plan was approved Tuesday night by the Norwalk Common Council over the objections of many of the same people who have been protesting it all along.

The vote was 8 to 5, including a yes vote from Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C), who voted against it at the committee level.

Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount promised that the authority would, at most, come back seeking a low-interest loan to finance building a driving range, not to run one. Mount said it would be at least two years before the authority could begin building a driving range because that is how long it will take to spend the $1.5 million grant the authority was granted by the state Bond Commission.

Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said that he had spoken to Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, who said that the $1.5 million was not dependent upon approval of the Master Plan by the Council, Kimmel said.

“(Hamilton) actually spoke to Mr. Mount while he was checking on it. It is not. Whether we approve it up or down that $1.5 million is in the pipeline and hopefully will come to the city. They are not related,” Kimmel said.

On July 24, Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs Casa Gian-Carl said, in an email to state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137), “The project must be within the parameters of the legislative authorization and the language of the Bond Commission allocation. One of the items that an agency would require would be that a project receive all local land use approvals – a project that does not meet the requirements of the contract would not get the funding.”

Mount said, in response to comments made by plan opponents, that Total Driving Range Solutions is not guaranteed to get the contract to run a driving range if it is built by the city, even though the company donated its services to develop the Master Plan and spent its time and money coming up with the driving range proposal.

Paul Cantor, a vocal opponent of the plan to put a driving range at Oak Hills Park, speaks to the Common Council Tuesday in City Hall.
Paul Cantor, a vocal opponent of the plan to put a driving range at Oak Hills Park, speaks to the Common Council Tuesday in City Hall.

Paul Cantor was one of the speakers who made that a topic, referring in his comments to Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers.

“The so-called Master Plan is not a document that was drafted with input from all the stakeholders in the city,” Cantor said. “It is a document that was drawn up by Total Driving Range Solutions, a private sector firm with a vested interest in constructing a driving range, together with members of the Oak Hills Park Authority. Last week, at the Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs council meeting, Common Council member Bruce Kimmel asked Ernie Desrochers how much Total Driving Range Solutions was paid for its work on the plan. Mr. Desrochers’ disingenuous remark, or answer, was ‘nothing.’ A more truthful answer would have been ‘nothing yet.’ Or ‘nothing but an implicit promise that any money obtained from a loan for the driving range would end up in Total Driving Range Solutions’ hands. Just consider that Total Driving Range Solutions, a newly established firm that has never constructed anything, issued a press release saying the golf authority at Oak Hills Park had been selected to build their driving range facility. Just consider, too, that five pages of the so-called master plan lists the credentials of those associated with Total Driving Range Solutions. The clear indication is those individuals expect to be hired to oversee the construction of the driving range. Just consider furthermore Mr. Desrochers’ smoking-gun comment on Total Driving Range Solutions’ website that TDRS is easy to work with and the Oak Hills Park Authority is excited to work with them.”

He referred to the “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” principal.

“More to the point, if Total Driving Range Solutions or any of its consultants is selected to oversee the construction of the driving range or do any work at all associated with the so-called Master Plan, it will open the city up to a suit from contractors who will rightfully say the (inaudible) process is not open and fair,” Cantor said.

Mount denied that TDRS had anything in the bag.

“They came forward with the plan to build the range,” Mount said. “We liked it but we didn’t like it. So we started adding things and moving things. Then we said, ‘Wait a minute, let’s look at the whole plan.’ So they really were a partner in helping us to get done what we needed to get done, which was a much, much larger plan. Will they have a hand up on gaining a contract? Maybe, I can’t say if they will or they won’t because they have done so much already, predesign work, they don’t have to put that in their bid. … They have done a lot of design work already. So I can’t really say yes or no but it will go through our general processes.”

Kimmel said everyone trusted Purchasing Agent Gerald Foley when it comes to things like this. Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said procedures could be put in place to ensure it’s a fair process.

Mount said both TDRS and Tad King of King Golf International, the losing bidder, offered to help draft a master plan.

“It wasn’t that they came and said, ‘Oh, we’ll do it so we have an advantage.’ It wasn’t that way at all,” Mount said.

Council members voting for the plan were Jerry Petrini (R-District D), Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D), Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large), Glenn Iannacone (R-At Large), John Kydes (D-District C), Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) and Maggio. Voting no were Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), Travis Simms (D-District B), Sharon Stewart (D-At Large), David Watts (D-District A) and Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B). John Igneri (D-District E) and David McCarthy (R-District E) were absent.

“I think I would be most comfortable with the assurance that you would make the open space more definitive,” Maggio said, after explaining that she wanted time to do homework. “I guess you have spoken and made some changes based on what the public would want.

Mount told her that in contrast to many complaints from the opponents, that a full public hearing had been held on May 22. There had also been a walkabout on the course, where about 100 people asked questions about the plan.

The approval does not mean that the city is obligated to fund the plan.

“Consideration of the OHPA master plan is not the same thing as actually appropriating city capital dollars or agreeing to any potential loan agreement between the city and the OHPA to finance any improvements to Oak Hills,” Hamilton said in a July 28 email to NoN. “In other words, the master plan is a long-term plan of development for Oak Hills Park, representing the improvements that the OHPA believes should occur in the coming 10 years.  The lease agreement between the city and the OHPA actually calls for the Authority to develop such a master plan and to present it to the city.  However, a master plan (even if it is approved by the Common Council) does not constitute a legal appropriation of funds, nor does it legally commit the city to financing any improvements that may be outlined in the Master Plan.

“A legal appropriation of capital funds would typically be considered as part of the city’s annual capital budget approval process,” he continued. “Unless and until there is a legal capital appropriation and an authorized loan agreement between the city and OHPA (a loan agreement presumes we would be expecting Oak Hills to repay the city for whatever funds the city agreed to appropriate), there is no legal basis upon which city funds could be spent.”

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Norwalk Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount speaks to the Common Council Tuesday in City Hall.

Comments

17 responses to “Norwalk Council approves $4.3 million Oak Hills master plan”

  1. John Hamlin

    This has really turned into a totally partisan issue. They can’t approve a lease for the Acquarium but they can approve a plan with a driving range for Oak Hills. Funny that the same people so concerned about traffic because of the mosque say nothing about traffic related to the driving range.

  2. TomReynolds

    Sorry John – You sound like the mis-informed people who have been protesting this thing from the very start. The Common Council did NOT “approve a driving range”, as this article falsely states in its title. They approved the Master Plan. Yes, a driving range exists within the vision of the plan, but funding for such a range is a topic, an ask, an argument, and an approval process for some future date.

    Hats off to the OHPA! Now go out and make Oak Hills the true destination it deverves to be.

  3. Kevin Di Mauro

    I think it’s unbelievable that the Common Council could approve a commercial enterprise such as this in a RESIDENTIAL zone. Page 75 of this plan describes key marketing components which are recommended to attract people to this neighborhood. It recommends improved signage on major roadways and written articles in national, regional, and local publications. I think this plan will destroy the quality of life for people who now LIVE in this neighborhood.

  4. Suzanne

    “Will they have a hand up on gaining a contract? Maybe, I can’t say if they will or they won’t because they have done so much already, predesign work, they don’t have to put that in their bid. … They have done a lot of design work already. So I can’t really say yes or no but it will go through our general processes.”

    Please. So unbelievable – a “hand in the process?” Why does anyone think TDRS has spent so many person hours to create this so-called “Master Plan” if they did not think they would get something out of it, like a contract to build the driving range? No one, NO ONE, puts in that many hours, creating blueprints, pretty renderings, presenting those renderings personally to countless people without expecting remuneration.

    “….go through our general processes.” And just what are they? If OHPA can develop a Master Plan using the vendor that is going to directly benefit whatever they suggest, then what are the “general processes” they go through to obtain the “bond” or “loan” from the City? It is not made all that clear in this article.

    Legitimate questions: how will this driving range really impact the overall course play? How much destruction will be required to impact the environment? Why weren’t the woods protected? (The Nature Center, hah!, The Learning Center, the euphemism for the driving range.) Why aren’t regular Master Plan development standards being required of the OHPA? How could the Council kick THIS can down the road when so many other needs in Norwalk require that four million plus?

    It is ridiculous and extraordinary at the same time. For all of you golfers out there ready to crow, apparently this “process” isn’t done yet. It is a mere impression to all of the dollars you may or may not obtain for this large toy at the expense to city taxpayers. You have no conscious except the one for your sport.

    TR, if you were laughing, I hope you also were laughing at the roads that won’t be fixed, the schools that needs books, the sidewalks that need repair, the homeless who need homes. These, in part, are the needs you are laughing at while you get your new play thing. Not the same allocation funds? Got news for you: all the money paid to Norwalk for budgeting goes in the same pot. That would be taxpayer money.

    Council, shame on all of you. No perspective, no balance, no criteria by which the City should be developed. Let’s just put one thing there, another thing here. I hope a traffic study is in the offing. The citizens of Norwalk deserve at least that.

  5. M murray

    I bet the driving range gets iused by more people that the walking trails and bike lanes in Notwalk combined.

  6. Suzanne

    M. Murray, All the more reason that a traffic plan be REQUIRED of the OHPA to study the impacts upon this residential neighborhood. If there will be as many as you anticipate, I would wish for all of that traffic to come by your home to appreciate just how much neighbors and others do NOT want to see this HUGE facility where it is not wanted. Oh, excuse me, except the minority of citizens who play golf at Oak Hills who find it so necessary to have this new toy to improve their GAMES.

  7. Fore Naught

    Does this approval have any sort of binding? Can’t OHPA seek commercial loans and be done with the council?

  8. Joe Optimistic

    Politics at its best….The Common Council should be ashamed and the Mayor also for allowing this to get this far. Did anyone read the article in The Hour saying how OH is doing great with 3000 more rounds of golf this year then last year! but as you read further in the article they generated less income then last year and have many more expenses, oh yeah sounds like a great year.

  9. Tom Reynolds

    “Improve their GAMES”?
    Just by the very way that is stated proves you know absolutely nothing about golf or golfers.

  10. Betsy Wrenn

    Even if I were one of the small number of local golfers, I would be outraged at the carelessness of this Council, squandering its power to approve a half-baked Master Plan. A thoughtful, responsible Council doing its job, would have called for deeper research into the financial health of the golf course, and the need and appropriateness of such costly upgrades.

  11. Casey Smith

    @Suzanne

    …. if you were laughing, I hope you also were laughing at the roads that won’t be fixed, the schools that needs books, the sidewalks that need repair, the homeless who need homes. These, in part, are the needs you are laughing at while you get your new play thing….

    ” the roads that won’t be fixed,” Uh, the majority of the funds for road paving comes from State allocations. Ask Bruce Kimmel, they talked about this recently in Finance Committee with Tom Hamilton.

    “…the schools that needs books…” Did we not just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for new Common Core curriculum? That doesn’t sound like there’s a lack of books to me. And many of the new teaching materials are actually going digital. And yes, the District just purchased a pile of Chromebooks so that the kids could take the recent digital test for the State.

    “…the sidewalks that need repair…” This is being addressed. From what I understand, DPW includes sidewalks if needed when they do repaving projects, but that may have changed. And there have been discussions about footpaths, too.

    …the homeless who need homes… There is something called the “Greater Norwalk Opening Doors Alliance” which is addressing homeless in Norwalk and the surrounding towns. Norwalk has been involved with the program since Mayor Moccia’s administration. I think Adam Bovilsky would be the City staff member who would know more about the program.

    This isn’t a sum zero game. The golf course does not operate at the expense of a student’s lunch money and roads aren’t paved because some person lost their home through foreclosure.

    Actually, if you want to see these various items expand, having a good strong business base will do it. If you block businesses in with too many rules, regulations, taxes and forms; then they move elsewhere. It’s simple economics.

  12. Suzanne

    Then simple economics it must be. You can cite where all of these resources come from, Federal, State or Local but none of it exists without taxpayers. It is a “zero sum game” when a local park insists on borrowing yet more dollars from the local budget with debt still outstanding to the same local government. It is selfish.

    TR, you just love to try and get on my nerves and it never works. Poor guy. Whatever the reference, try this from the USGA WEB Site re: their alliance with American Express:

    These experiences will include exclusive access to some of the USGA’s championships, exclusive access to play U.S. Open® courses, past and present, on select USGA-hosted days and a variety of benefits to enhance the enjoyment of the GAME.

    Whether you need to know it or not, one of my emphases in college was a unit on golf courses and their design and history. (To me, it is actually a shame the OHPA is so set on changing what was a historic, although minor, golf course. I have the archival design from Public Works.)

    I have played many courses, including Torrey Pines and, sadly, just a bit of Pebble Beach due to a back problem. The former golf editor for Sports Illustrated is a family member and he has written many books (and is writing one now, golf related), which I have read, on the subject.

    Don’t go where you have no knowledge. Your assumptions are making you look, well where assumptions will take you.

  13. Kevin Di Mauro

    The Norwalk Common Council approved this plan which states on page 74 ” The OHPA recommends that the CITY OF NORWALK FULLY FUND and IMPLEMENT the PLAN DURING the NEXT FISCAL YEAR”. I still can’t believe they approved this.

    A CITY COMMITMENT is the title on page 7. It begins by stating, “The City of Norwalk is in the RECREATION BUSINESS”. I didn’t know that. I guess that’s where my tax dollars are going. I still can’t believe the Norwalk Common Council approved this.

  14. M murray

    Actually I don’t live that far from the course, and will probably see some of the traffic. As long as it doesn’t cause back ups, I’m ok with it.

  15. Suzanne

    M. Murray, Wherever you live, West Norwalk is a quiet community. There is the expectation of that peacefulness to continue. I am assuming that is why are taxes are what they are. Therefore, additional traffic, enough to fill 36 bays or whatever it is on an ongoing basis will produce significant traffic increases. OHPA MUST account for it.

  16. M murray

    OK Suzanne, let’s do some math. This also proves how wrong I was in 5th grade when I said I would never use math in real life. Let’s say the range is a huge success and highly profitable. (Wouldn’t that be horrible for our city?). To keep it simple, 30 out of the 36 bays are constantly in use. Let’s say 30 people per hour. In the worst case Suzanne, you live one or two houses away on Fillow. Since traffic comes from both ways and you don’t live directly in front of the entrance, we will say that half that traffic comes by your house. That’s 15 cars per hour, or one car every 4 minutes. Let’s sit in our front yard for 4 minutes and imagine one extra car driving by. Now if you don’t live on Filliw near the course, you are on a feeder road, such as Scribner, Fox Run, North Taylor, Stuart, Hunters, etc. To keep it simple we will say there are only 4 feeders and you are on one of those. That would make one extra car every 8 minutes. I don’t think either scenario will cause a traffic jam on your street. But, if they add bike lanes you will have to assume an extra 2 or 3 bicycles per day. Assuming this is only during the day, that’s one extra bicycle every 4-6 hours. Now if those hugely popular walking trails lose some of their luster, traffic will be. Somewhat reduced. I have no clue how many people go to those on a daily basis and can’t predict the amount of traffic reduced in that case.

  17. Suzanne

    Assuming your fifth grade math is correct. This does not preclude OHPA from doing a traffic study to see if you are right.

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