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Norwalk Oak Hills meeting revealed the ineptitude of those in charge

By Diane C2: Things Norwalker Really Need to Know

NORWALK, Conn. – Before I start my commentary on the Tuesday afternoon Oak Hills meeting, fellow taxpayers take note:

BREAKING NEWS:

From the Jan. 17 agenda for Oak Hills Park Authority – people MUST show up!

  • B. Discussion/resolution to give the Treasurer authority to request financial support from the city.

Perhaps the “rumors” from “unreliable sources” are true after all?

Common Council, Mr. Wilms and Mr. Hamilton: Launch an investigation. Please.

◊◊◊

Now, about Tuesday’s Oak Hills Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee meeting:

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum

The gloves are apparently off on the matter of a driving range at Oak Hills. I attended the “first” (yeah, right) meeting of the Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee yesterday afternoon where the agenda was to discuss the final components of a range RFP (request for proposals). Abutting neighbors are furious at the very idea of destroying a wooded section of the park for the benefit of golfers, and equally incensed at the process under which it is happening. Park neighbor Paul Cantor rose to read a statement, though no public comment was allowed, and was gaveled out of order by Committee Chairman Ernest Desroches.

Not to be denied to have his statement heard, Mr. Cantor continued reading, though a recess was ultimately called and four of six committee members left the room (returning only when Mr. Cantor completed his statement). The committee taped the meeting, so I think residents should request a verbatim transcript.

As to my take away: It is clearer now more than ever to me that the authority members are inexperienced at best, and incompetent at worst, and simply have NO clue as to the process that should have been followed: feasibility study first, then request for qualifications, and then request for proposals.

After the meeting, I bumped into two councilmen and filled them in on some of the shenanigans – they both agreed with me on that protocol in this instance: feasibility, qualifications, proposals. I also contend that public engagement should happen prior to each of those steps. I hope they and other council members will agree as well.

When the Authority said it met with neighbors and leadership of West Norwalk Association (WNA), it was once again an insult to Norwalk taxpayers, all of whom own that park. The stakeholders of Oak Hills go far beyond abutters and WNA, though clearly they are most affected by noise, traffic and environmental destruction. The authority’s lack of outreach to the public at large is unprofessional and unacceptable.

Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chair Desroches is quoted in The Daily Voice today as saying, “We’re looking to make the course economically viable, and we want to open a dialogue with the neighbors.” Doesn’t this admit that the course is not economically viable now, and also that they are prepared to push through on this even though they haven’t had a “dialogue” with neighbors? And, oh, by the way, define “neighbors,” because ALL Norwalkers own that park.

When Mr. Virgulak referred to a city master plan that seemingly grants the right to a driving range, he referred to document that precedes the 2008 Master Plan of Conservation and Development. I made a point of information that he was referencing an outdated document, and that the only master plan that should be referenced is the 2008 version, approved by the mayor and council:

  • C.2.1.4 Commit to stewardship of city-owned wooded areas, natural areas, and environmentally sensitive areas.
  • C.3.1 Provide a greater diversity of recreation facilities and programs to meet the needs of all user groups, including new facilities for supervised recreation for young people.
  • C.3.1.1 Consider the construction of a municipal golf driving range by examining sites in which such a facility would be in keeping with the integrity of the surrounding neighborhood and its environmental conditions while recognizing the need to preserve public park open space to the greatest extent possible.

At the end of the meeting I took part in an “active” exchange with Mr. Virgulak regarding the existence of the “Total Driving Range Solutions” documents, which he denies exist. I told him his own minutes reference it, and the specifications had been provided.

When I asked them to identify the scope of the RFP (i.e., size of range, desired number of bays, number of levels, location, etc.), they said they don’t know that, and that is what they are issuing the RFP for! Unbelievable! Those are the very specs that a bidder would require in order to submit a bid for apples-to-apples comparison!

When I insisted he had specifications, or must have them, he said that I had “unreliable sources.” At that point Park Executive Director Shelly Guyer intervened and assured me he would supply me with all of my requests and invited me to visit his office at any time. I may have to do that.

As it stood at the end of the meeting, a public comment session would be held on Feb. 12 in the City Hall Community Room (apparently complete with on-duty, uniformed police again, at Mr. Virgulak’s insistence). The RFP is slated to go before the full authority on Feb. 21.

I’m sure I haven’t captured all my notes in this recap, so I may add more later. In the meantime, I am disappointed in the response I received from the OHPA regarding my list of items for investigation by the city (see my next posting). I will dissect that further and issue a response directly to OHPA, and copy all the city officials that I originally asked to launch an investigation.

In closing, the inmates are running the asylum over there …

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