Oak Hills chairman defends new ‘Plan A’

 Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount
Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount leads a recent OHPA meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – The proposed Oak Hills Park master plan could be phased in over several years, like the Veteran’s Park master plan, Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount said Sunday.

The estimated $4.45 million cost of the master plan includes a driving range. Mount said he couldn’t yet provide details but he understood that Total Driving Range Solutions (TDRS), the selected bidder, could finance building just the range – no other improvements to the park – but that’s now considered “Plan B.”

This is in spite of a developer-financed driving range being outlined as Plan A under former OHPA Chairman Bob Virgulak when this process began more than a year and a half ago.

“The city will invest no money and will probably give a 10-year lease to the company that builds it. Then it will belong to the city,” Virgulak said in a December 2012 meeting.

He repeated the thought. “Oak Hills is not going to have to pay any money on this. We will make money on this,” he said. “…We expect we’re going to make a lot of money, however, you never know how things turn out, expectations don’t always come out exactly the way they should be. We can only go by what some of the surrounding driving ranges made.”

Virgulak went on to challenge those who were turning out to protest the idea by saying that he pays a lot of real estate taxes, and he didn’t want his taxes to go up either. There would be a public hearing, he said.

“We’re all in this together, that’s the way we want everybody to feel,” he said. “It’s a lot different this time than it was 11-12 years ago, I wish some people would understand that. It’s not the same thing, it’s not the same place. It’s not the cost. That’s the way it is. Now, we expect it to be a big money maker for the city, not in the beginning and then eventually it’s going to be ours, 100 percent. We’re not going to be giving a 20-30 year lease with this thing. We’re going to probably give a 10-year deal on it to an operator. But again, we haven’t defined the exact terms yet of how we’re going to do this.”

The need for a long term lease is the reason Plan A is now Plan B, according to Mount.

Asked in an email, “Without doing the entire makeover, just the driving range, does TDRS finance that itself? Or do you still need to go to the city?” Mount replied by email:

“It is my understanding that TDRS could do just the range location.  It will require an extended lease that we felt would be hard for the City to stomach.   Some of the items that we propose in the master plan to better the facility/Range would not have been included as we built a better facility.  I am not certain of the value of just that piece as it changed with all of our enhancements.   I will try and get that for you within the next few days.  So the short answer is I believe so/yes, the longer answer is we are looking at that now as plan b so we can revise or phase the master plan/financial needs.  Other Master Plans are phased in like the Vet’s park 13 million dollar plus, over ten year makeover that was approved for that park.”

Authority members are thinking it would be best to fix the entire thing at once, he said.

“That could be too aggressive for the environment today, but we really feel the plan is a good one, and is what we will continue to push, with one major change…how we go about paying for it.”

He said he was disappointed that people were looking at the master plan’s price tag before reviewing what he called a “good” plan, one “that really takes the park and the facilities well into the future.”


19 responses to “Oak Hills chairman defends new ‘Plan A’”

  1. Melanie

    “He said he was disappointed that people were looking at the master plan’s price tag before reviewing what he called a “good” plan,” and what plan would that be? How about plan g as in Get real. Plan? Or delusions of grandeur, in water color, as the boys haven’t mastered Powerpoint yet but they will, if the cash keeps flowing from the city. No time frame on when they will master Excel, if ever. Plan? Seriously? For real, do we not have many more important issues to devote energy and resources to? Here is an idea, take those growing list of plans a, b, c, d, e, and present it to a banker, without the mayors cosignature. If the banks laugh than try selling some bonds or some other fundraising scheme. Wouldn’t that also be a way to gauge the market, by the investors participation and confidence? Especially since most financial instruments, like bankers require, are little old dusty documents called a business plan including documented pojections of silly things like market analysis and gross and net revenue and debt. But hey, this is between the good ole boys, no need for all that fancy time wasting red tape regulation mumble jumble lawyer’n paperwork, not here. Right? All ya need is a wink and a nod from the fellas.

  2. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    As usual with this site, leave a relevant piece of the email out to make us look bad…Please see the rest of my email to Nancy on Norwalk.

    This is the last line of my email to NON. It was answering one of the questions Nancy asked.

    “And yes, I did expect controversy, just wish people could review the plan before turning to the finances, it is a good one in my eyes. One that really takes the park and the facilities well into the future. But it is a very natural reaction to look right at the price, I know I do, so I can’t fault anyone for doing just that.”

    1. We considered that comment to be a personal response to a question. The rest of the sentiment expressed is in the story. I don’t think there’s anything relevant missing from the story by leaving that comment out.

  3. Suzanne

    Mr. Virgulak’s comments are completely irrelevant and show just how misinformed he WAS. He was still spouting gross revenues from Sterling Farms and profits even when the actual numbers show very little profit after expenses. He just did not want to see the truth.

    Just a reminder to the OHPA, Veterans Park is available to all citizens of Norwalk. Oak Hills certainly is not.

    Melanie, thank you for your comments. The financial perspective these OHPA people need. As a “personal comment”, see Clyde Mount’s correction to his e-mail, these are not bad people just really, really misinformed people who are in way above their heads.

    Again, why aren’t the golfers that so desperately want these new amenities not just playing the course enough to meet expenses? Isn’t Oak Hills a “gem” as they describe it? I have played it and it is a lovely course just as it is for a municipal course. If these same golfers want something more, join a club and pay the rates. You, golfers, have no “right” to something better – especially not at the taxpayers’ expense.

    The only problem here is that golfers are not playing golf. Play it, get the rounds needed (does the OHPA even know this information to real cost data and servicing of the existing debt?) and stop tormenting taxpayers with these ill-founded, ill-informed “plans.” Time for the ink in this column to be devoted to something else.

  4. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, much of the OHPA thinking about proposals for Oak Hills are driven by the fact that there is a golf course there already. Thus, one can be forgiven for thinking that the range of options for the site MUST revolve around expansion/enhancement to the site as a golf course. However, this moment in time strikes me as a wonderful opportunity to rethink the entire issue of the land use at the site, and the reestablishment of the site as a park or otherwise broad-gauged community asset. My hope is that the Mayor and the Common Council recognize this and take action in this direction. Norwalk simply does not need a golf course, especially one that deflects community resources (i.e. tax dollars)away from more worthy endeavors.

  5. Paul Cantor

    Clyde, consider the following:

    The OHPA of which you now serve as chairman has all along claimed that Total Driving Range Solutions, the firm it chose to construct the driving range, would:

    1. finance it.

    2. rent the land on which the driving range would be situated and share a percentage of its gross revenues with the Authority.

    What changed? Couldn’t Total Driving Range Solutions obtain financing for it? If it couldn’t isn’t that an indication that private sources of financing are not as confident as you are that the driving range will be profitable?

    When you put out your request for proposals to construct the driving range you only received two bids. Isn’t that an indication that not everyone in the industry thinks your driving range proposal will be a profitable venture?

    Of the two bids the one you selected was Total Driving Range Solutions’. But there is no indication on Total Driving Range Solutions new web site that it has ever constructed a driving range. So shouldn’t that give taxpayers pause to wonder how you can have so much confidence in this untested firm that was established only three years ago?

    Furthermore, if driving ranges really were the magnificent moneymakers you claim yours will be wouldn’t private developers be buying up land and constructing them right and left? How come that is just not happening?

    These are just a few of the questions taxpayers might want our Mayor and Common Council members to consider.

  6. Betsy Wrenn

    The Oak Hills Park Authority must read some non-golf studies and embrace the new realities. Walking is the number one exercise for an aging population, and youth prefers “self-directed recreation” – running, biking, and skateboarding to name a few. Blowing millions in public money to prop up an expensive and ailing form of recreation ignores the needs of the majority of the population.

  7. Joe Espo

    Clyde: I agree with you about this site. There’s no way any OHPA issue is going to get a fair shake here. The commentary is much too dominated by the fringe elements of our community. The golf course is like global warming. The quests for the elimination of CO2 and the elimination of the golf course are both akin to religion against which there’s no possible rational argument. If you don’t agree with the opposition, you’re a “denier.” And deniers must be shamed, shunned and shredded.

  8. Yvonne Lopaur

    As one of those who along with more than 1000 other taxpayers signed a petition opposing the construction of a large commercial driving range in Oak Hills Park when it was first proposed years ago I resent the fact that any member of the Common Council or the Mayor would seriously entertain the idea again. As Edward M. Kweskin, the lawyer for the Oak Hills Neighborhood Association, stated in an August 4, 1999 letter to the Mayor at that time:

    “Dear Mayor Esposito and Members of the Common Council: Please be advised that my office represents the Oak Hills Neighborhood Association. The Oak Hills Neighborhood Association consists of local residents who oppose the contemplated development of a two-level, forty-bay driving range and 5,000 square-foot restaurant at Oak Hills Park. As you know, the proposed change and increase in use of Oak Hills Park have caused a public outcry against such action. I am writing to request that you carefully consider the following before any action is taken that will adversely affect members of the general public, the Oak Hills Park itself and the members of the Association: There are land restrictions binding upon the City of Norwalk which prohibit it from acting without State approval to convert the Park to any use other than for recreational, conservation or open-space purposes. A proposed 5,000 square-foot restaurant is neither a recreational nor a conservation use (nor is it ancillary to such uses), and it reduces the available open space. Possibly, a much smaller clubhouse suitable for the public after a round of golf or a game of tennis in a location that is discretely situated could meet legal requirements. Certainly, a 5,000 square foot facility does not…Construction of a forty-bay driving range will cause recreation damage and environmental damage to the golf course…The zoning Regulations of the City of Norwalk do not permit a commercial forty-bay driving range at Oak Hills Park…THE PROPOSED ACTIONS LACK COMMON SENSE…As an avid golfer myself (who plays frequently at Oak Hills Park), I can assure you that golfers do not require a two level forty-bay driving range or a 5,000 square foot restaurant at the Park. If anything, the Authority should consider a smaller practice area … and a smaller, much less costly restaurant facility that could serve the golfers and tennis players after they finished their play…The proposed restaurant and driving range cannot be installed and run on and economically self-sufficient basis. Taxpayers will have added tax burdens and/or the Authority will be compelled to hike the green fees (making golf less accessible to most members of the public) and to short-change the maintenance of the Park…The City has not yet set aside the money to compensate all of the property owners in the neighborhood for the diminution in their property values (i.e., taking their private property for public purposes) by virtue of the lights, noise and traffic that will be associated with the proposed driving range and restaurant…The City should no want to invite a legal challenge based upon the foregoing issues (and others which may surface as time marches on). Such challenges are costly, cause delay, and if successful, bring discredit upon the City and its officials…THE PROPOSED ACTIONS ARE NOT POPULAR AND DO NOT REFLECT THE PUBLIC’S PREFERENCES. With a minimum of effort, the Oak Hills Neighborhood Association has gathered over a thousand signatures (including many golfers) who oppose the planned construction…By failing to make the “special effort” necessary to bring the public into the deliberative process, the Oak Hills Authority has not felt the pulse of the community…The neighbors of Oak Hills Park are outraged by the cavalier treatment they have received from the Oak Hills Authority and by the offensive uses that are being proposed. In light of all of the foregoing legal problems, as well as the ground swell of opinion that has formed against the proposed development of Oak Hills Park, I urge you to do what is in your power to prevent from proceeding any further the contemplated illegal and ill-advised new uses of the park.”

  9. Piberman

    From a financial point of view the new Oak Hills presentation is sorely deficient and lacking the most elementary details. But this is Norwalk where grasping finance remains difficult for public officials. In any other town such a sophomoric presentation involving proposed public outlays would be both unacceptable and embarrassing to all concerned. Oak Hills Authority desperately needs professional financial inputs to be taken seriously. Spending public monies is not for amateur hour.

  10. Suzanne

    Mr. Espo, I am afraid the fringe element has become the golfers. If you examine the financing for this new Master Plan, it just doesn’t make sense for the taxpayers. As piberman states above, “Spending public monies is not for amateur hour.” Other comments on this issue recently related what those elements missing in this proposal are. To ask if private funding rejected the range? That isn’t a curmudgeon spouting against the golf course and the OHPA: rather, because there was so little public comment or vetting of the proposal, we really don’t know if private funding was sought. What we do know is that over $4 million is being asked of the community to fund golfers. That is a fact, not a lack of a “fair shake.” People are now speaking to the facts and not emotion. I hope it guides the OHPA to go through the proper process for creating the Master Plan and re-evaluating their financial position. Right now, it is a beautiful course with not enough players. A thermometer should be erected at the course’s entry showing the numbers: how many rounds do we need this month to reach our financial goal? Yay! We did it! Or, no, not this month. How is the OHPA going to make up the difference as required by the Charter?

  11. Bill Wrenn

    If the Oak Hills Park Authority asked to borrow $3.25 million from a commercial bank based on their proposed Master Plan, the answer would be a big “no.” Yet the OHPA thinks the taxpayers of Norwalk should have no problem with it. Are they kidding? What happened to: “The driving range won’t cost the city one penny?” What happened to: “the Oak Hills golf course pays its own way?”

  12. Taxpayer Fatigue

    This may be the best master plan ever, but since only a select few had input into it, it will never be funded by the city. That isn’t how it works with taxpayer $$s (at least anymore).

    Start the process over from the beginning, include all stakeholders, be respectful of others opinions, even when you disagree,keep paying down your loan, and come back with a new plan that phases the improvements in over four or five years, and you’ll probably get the funding you need.

  13. Piberman

    The most interesting part of the “new” Oak Hills plan aside from its lack of basic specifics is Mayor Rilling’s continued silence. That’s puzzling. After all Authority members are appointed by the Mayor. Could it really be that that the Mayor believes the new Oak Hills plan best serves the City’s interest and that the Authority is working to a high standard as true “public servants”?
    It’s the new plan part of the New Norwalk ? Or just an utterly appalling misuse of delegated powers by an obviously malfunctioning Board distrusted by most City homeowners ? Clearly now is the time for Mayor Rilling to make his views known. Unless he believes the Authority is serving the “public interest”.

  14. Diane C2

    @TaxPayer fatigue – WELL SAID!

  15. EveT

    @ Piberman, 7 out of 9 Oak Hills Authority members are appointed by the Common Council, not the mayor. Perhaps the mayor is waiting to research the issue and gather facts before making any statements. Have you read the master plan draft? It is available on the Oak Hills website and it seems to indicate that approval by the mayor is a later step in the process.

  16. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Berman, All but one appointee on OPHA were made by your hero, Mayor Moccia.

  17. Suzanne

    piberman, Perhaps he has his own schedule but I would like to hear from the mayor too about this issue, or any issue would be nice. He may be working and researching but that is not an excuse to not speak about Town dealings with the constituency.

  18. LWitherspoon

    How much of the $4.45 million is to build the driving range?
    How long a lease would be necessary for TDRS to finance construction of the driving range by itself? Why is it better for taxpayers to finance the range and take on the risk that income from the range doesn’t cover the cost of construction?
    How about letting TDRS finance construction of the driving range and then using revenues from the anticipated increase in golf rounds to implement the rest of the master plan?
    Hopefully Mr. Mount and the OHPA can understand why we would become wary after a 180-degree turnaround regarding who will finance driving range construction. I am grateful for all the efforts by Mr. Mount and the rest of the hard-working volunteers on the OHPA. I’m confident their intention is to create a financially viable public golf course. However I’m thoroughly confused. What does the OHPA know now that it didn’t know back when it considered proposals to build the range?

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