Correction Sept. 29: Five Council members present, Greg Burnett came in after the meeting began; photo added; Updated, 7:28 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling and five Common Council members listened Thursday to opinions about a bar at Oak Hills Park.
It wouldn’t be a bar, but a “bar in a restaurant,” Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Bill Waters said to begin the discussion. Opponent Yvonne Lopaur answered a short while later that there had already been a bar in the restaurant but the Authority had taken it out to put in a pro shop.
Former OHPA Chairman Joe Tamburri used the occasion to speak about the much-maligned restaurant building for the first time, he said.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
“Always the finger was pointed at the restaurant as the scapegoat,” Tamburri said. “Well, let me tell you. We had credible people on that authority as well as others that the Mayor appointed to be on that Committee, so we were very well-rounded as to what was taking place.”
All of this was caught on video by NancyOnNorwalk volunteer Harold Cobin. Tamburri began speaking about 22 minutes into the meeting.
“I can recall back, before I got involved with that restaurant situation: 10 years, with one administration, I am sure you can fill in the gap, and it never went anywhere,” Tamburri said.
The financials for the restaurant building, constructed while Alex Knopp was Mayor, were solid with a 15-year plan but “so many issues,” and problems came up, and the loan was restructured to include the “irrigation that had 10 years remaining,” he said.
“The city set up the Authority financially to fail because of the restructuring,” he said. “…We don’t need a sit down bar. A bar has always been there, it will continue to be there, a sit down bar is not necessary.”
Waters said a bar in the restaurant would put it on a level playing field with other establishments.
A bar has the connotation of people sitting around drinking, a business that stays open to 2 a.m., Rilling said. Waters said the bar would be open to 10 or 11, unless there was a special party and the restaurant operator would pay to construct the bar.
“Common sense will tell you it will never be in a level playing field. It’s in a residential area, not in an area where people are going to come and go to Oak Hills,” Ron Paladino said. “…I don’t think a sit down bar is going to do anything. It should be something simple for golfers to get a hot dog, a hamburger.”
“The bar is not going to solve our problems. The bar would allow the operator to make enough money to pay its rent,” Waters said, responding to criticism.
“You know that for a fact?” someone asked.
“We can back it up,” he said.
“I probably researched this subject more than anybody,” former OHPA Chairman Ernie DesRochers said. “… while it’s easy to stand here to point fingers about decisions that got made, that’s definitely in the past.”
The original intent was about 180 degrees from what was built and “the building usage needs to change in order to get more with the times,” he said. “…Business changes. It happens and I think the business of trying to cater to large parties, that has changed. What we need to do is allow the building to be what it needs to be.”
Lopaur and her husband, Paul Cantor, said the park should be returned to the Recreation and Parks Department and made into a space for all Norwalkers, and a bar is not suitable for a residential neighborhood.
Rowayton is residential and has two bars, Lisa Brinton said. Brinton expressed support for a bar at Oak Hills, provided it closes at 10.
That was a consensus, with most people saying they approved of a bar, if it closes early.
“I don’t know it if a sit down bar is going to work, I don’t run the numbers,” Bob Pattacini said. “But I know that they deserve the chance that they need to pay the rent, OK?”
“Every other golf course around here is in a residential neighborhood,” Charlie Brennan said. “…it may not solve the problems but it will get people in there.”