By Paul Cantor
NORWALK, Conn. – In his recent letter, Fred Wilms, the chairman of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, wrote the “Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) needs additional revenues to stay alive” and then followed that statement by claiming the authority is financially viable. But if it is financially viable it doesn’t need additional revenues to survive.
Mr. Wilms then claimed that the driving range is “the most coherent” solution presented to solve the OHPA’s financial problems. But a driving range built and operated by a private concern intent on recovering its construction costs and earning a profit is highly unlikely to make any substantial contribution to solving the financial problems faced by the OHPA.
Mr. Wilms went on to contend that providing the OHPA with millions of dollars in low interest loans and then restructuring those loans again and again does not amount to a taxpayer subsidy. But, of course, that is not true. The OHPA could not obtain such favorable and forgiving terms on money borrowed from the private sector.
Finally, Mr. Wilms concluded: “We cannot risk losing this community gem.”
The implication of his conclusion is that without the driving range there will be no golf course and without the golf course there will be no Oak Hills Park. But it is not necessarily the case that without an additional source of income from a driving range the golf course cannot survive intact. And it is not true that without the golf course there would be no Oak Hills Park.
Indeed, if, as Mr. Wilms asserts, the OHPA can cover the cost of operating and maintaining the golf course, a good case can be made for allowing it to do so. However, if Mr. Wilms is wrong and the OHPA can’t cover the cost of operating and maintaining the golf course because the OHPA is not capable of managing it well and/or because there has been a decrease in the demand for spending 4.5 hours playing 18 holes of golf on a course designed for heavy hitters, then the course might be reduced in size and the land freed up as a result used for purposes appropriate to a public park. In short, there are many alternatives for Oak Hills Park that would balance the needs of all taxpayers.
So yes, as Mr. Wilms maintains, Oak Hills Park is a gem. It is a gem belonging to Norwalk taxpayers that would be badly scarred if a large driving range with its high ugly nets destroyed its only remaining nature preserve, further limited non-golfers access to the park, and generated additional traffic, noise and pollution harmful to the West Norwalk residential neighborhood in which it is located.