Correction: The person who asked about police body cameras was misidentified. It was Mary Oster.
NORWALK, Conn. – The continued fight against a golf driving range at Oak Hills Park provided some lively debate at Thursday’s Norwalk Mayor’s Night Out, which also featured comments about city planning, talk about body cameras for the Norwalk Police Department and an indication from Councilman David Watts that he might run again.
Not too many people attended the event at Kendall Elementary School, which gave Paul Cantor the opportunity to put Mayor Harry Rilling on the spot.
Cantor said a driving range at Oak Hills would bring traffic to the area, and the Council had just settled the lawsuit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center because of the traffic a mosque would have brought to the nearby Fillow Street location. He asked Rilling why he had not taken a stand against the driving range.
“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Rilling said. “We’re not sure what right we have to stop it, it’s the Oak Hills Park Authority that’s working on it. If it comes before proper committees then … I know they voted in favor of the Oak Hills Master Plan the other day but that doesn’t mean they voted in favor of constructing the driving range; they voted in favor of the concept.”
Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said that next month, on Nov. 13, his committee will begin studying the financial analysis offered in the Master Plan.
Kimmel said there were traffic studies done for the mosque. “In my mind traffic was not that big of an issue in relation to the mosque. There were other issues that had to be considered,” Kimmel said.
“I’m sorry I don’t trust your reviewing of this financial plan after what I witnessed at the last Council meeting,” Cantor said. “Nobody at the Council meeting brought up the increase of traffic. Why did we stop the mosque from being built? Was it Islamophobia? Are we going to let the rest of the world look at Norwalk and see us rejecting a mosque for issues related to traffic and accepting a double-decker driving range?”
The entrance to Oak Hills Park is a half mile away from Kendall and Ponus Ridge Middle School, Cantor said.
“They’re not going to be going to a place of worship, they’re going to be going to hit a couple of balls, maybe to be going to the restaurant and having a couple of drinks and then be driving home, every day if the Oak Hills Authority is successful, all day, every day of the year, when kids are in school,” Cantor said.
“The Finance Department of the city will continue to crunch the numbers so we don’t do anything that can come back and haunt us. We will address the traffic issues one way or another,” Kimmel replied.
He said that before the Council approved the Oak Hills Park Master Plan he got two emails against it, and several hundred supporting it. The emails weren’t done with templates either, he said.
“There is a fair amount of sentiment in the city on both sides. We are looking at the numbers and everything else. Some people are glad we are doing that, some people are not happy we are doing that. Some people are saying, well, that’s what you should be doing,” he said.
Watts pledged to vote against it.
“I can give you my answer today. I will not be voting to give financial support to the driving range. We were pretty clear from the last Council that the last time it came up before us for funds that should be the last time. … I don’t think the city should be investing into the golf course,” Watts said.
OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount has said the authority will not be looking to build a driving range for two years. That is after Watts’ current term runs out.
After the meeting, Watts said he is “50-50” on running again. He will make the decision “soon,” he said, because he is chairman of District A for the Democratic Town Committee and will have to help a candidate should he decide not to run.
Another topic of conversation came from Elsa Peterson Obuchowski. She said she had read an observation.
“A lot of people who plan cities don’t actually like cities,” she said. “There’s a quote here: ‘They do not merely dislike the noise, the dirt and the congestion, they dislike the city’s variety and concentration, its tension and hustle and bustle.’ I think that’s something we should think about. I would like to suggest that those who are appointed, elected and employed to update and improve Norwalk should be people who enjoy and appreciate Norwalk and embrace it as what it is: a city.”
There are hundreds of cities the same size as Norwalk, she said.
“I would love it if we could take a careful look at what is good about those cities and see what we could implement here to make it a better place,” she said.
Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene took on that challenge.
“All the things she mentioned are what makes a city great and what makes Norwalk great but it also makes a contentious debate on a lot of issues and that’s not a bad thing for a city. The debates that go on, many times wonderful debates, especially when personal. A city decides where it wants to be on that spectrum,” Greene said.
“I assure you no matter what city you find and no matter how wonderful you think that city is or how wonderful they say they are, if you talk to that planning director he can tell you nightmare stories, he can tell you about battles that were fought, battles that were won, battles that were lost,” Greene said. “That’s the excitement.”
Planning directors from this area meet four times a year, he said.
“There is no city that you will find that doesn’t have problems. There is no city you will find that doesn’t have successes. It’s just a matter where each city chooses to land. Each city should look at what other cities do but should not copy what other cities do because it’s not one size fits all. That’s the first thing you learn in planning,” Greene said.
Deputy Norwalk Police Chief David Wrinn noted that no one had commented on speeding, a first for a Mayor’s Night Out.
Rilling asked him to talk about body cameras.
“The chief has been looking into getting body cameras for our officers,” Wrinn said. There are five body cameras currently in beta testing, but it will take a while to implement a program, he said. It would mean a significant outlay of cash but there are people will to donate money. “We would very much to have all of our officers wearing cameras,” he said.
Mary Oster asked what officers think about that.
“I think there’s some trepidation from some and it’s mixed,” Wrinn said. “Some would love to have to have them and others are a little bit nervous about how are they being used, what are they being used for. There’s a lot of things we have to look at. Can we keep them recording walking right into someone’s house. There’s privacy issues coming up; how long do we keep the video? There’s a lot of questions we’re look at right now. We’re not inventing the wheel, other people are looking at the same time. But it’s very much a mix, how you would expect. Personally, I’d love to have one if I were back on patrol. I think everything about it is good in my mind and a lot of the officers feel the same way.”
Update, 3:47 p.m.: Elsa Peterson changed to Elsa Peterson Obuchowski.