Oak Hills men defend driving range choice

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The Oak Hills driving range is planned for location at the first tee.

NORWALK, Conn. – It was difficult but also a learning process, say the two men who worked with two bidders seeking to build a driving range at Norwalk Oak Hills Park.

Oak Hills Park Authority Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee members Ernie Desrochers and Clyde Mount made the comments in response to a recent outreach to the press from Tad King, whose proposal to build a driving range behind the restaurant at the park was rejected by the two men in favor of a proposal submitted by Jim Downing after a lengthy negotiation process.

King said he was mystified in part because he had submitted a proposal for the woods, which the request for proposals (RFP) had specified was the preferred plan. Downing’s Total Driving Range Solutions plan is for a driving range on the course itself.

Mount said the woods lost favor for a variety of reasons:

“It is my belief (only speaking from my opinion) that the fight to place it in the woods would take years, be in the end much more costly, and will damage a nice piece of open space at the park,” he wrote in an email. “It needs some real engineering for site work that I have not seen to any level of detail that would tell me we are good with it back there.  Public outcry and current administration are not in support of that location either, so the battle will hurt all Norwalkers if we can’t get it done in a timely manner. Something that when OHPA started this, I was of one opinion and now see why it is important to try and make it a better place for all of Norwalk.

“This has been a learning experience for all of us and we try to take it all in and make it better each time we talk about it. …We learned a lot, and to me, I would need to see something very different  for me to reconsider the restaurant location.   I think in today’s world, because something may be preferred, sometimes it just too unpopular, too hard to do, too expensive, doesn’t fit, etc. … a host of reasons that if we put our egos at the curb, we can do good things for the city.  I will tell you, I liked the spot behind the restaurant the most, but I am also a realist. … and feel that a teaching facility at Oak Hills makes for a totally different experience for golfers and non-golfers or future golfers …”

“Building behind the restaurant is like asking for a vineyard at Cranbury Park, just not in the cards, no matter what he says,” he wrote in another email. “Does not work for the community as a whole, which is one of the factors we had to consider.”

The TDRS plan has developed to a point that both men are proud of, they said.
“To me, the appearance of the OHP plan will be much softer, with trees lining the sides, vines growing on the structure, a nice entry way, and we are actually below grade a little giving a lower appearance to the structure,” Mount said. “Also we will have automated tees, and to some that is not a big deal, but that is a great feature that is talked about a lot at the Chelsea Piers structure in NYC.  We will be smaller, and not have the direct parking that Sterling (Farms in Stamford) has, but that is something I think will not have as huge an impact as is being portrayed at this time. There will be targets to hit to, and being that the golfers will have to hit up hill, they should see their shot until it lands.”

“TDRS has done a tremendous job in trying to create a place to practice in the park that can be both economic and sensitive to needs of the environmental community as a whole.  Isn’t that what the OHPA should be about?” Desrochers wrote. “Let’s make Oak Hills a learning center for everyone.”

Desrochers has been touting the master planning services that Downing will do for the park as part of his proposal. King said Desrochers was misleading people, as he would do master planning at the lowest price Desrochers said he would accept.

He said Desrochers had not told Mount. Mount said that wasn’t true.

“FYI, as a member of the ad-hoc committee, I was told that King would provide this service after we had to ask for it, so not sure why he would say I did not know,” he wrote. “It was part of the TDRS proposal up front.  I am actually not sure the timing of him adding that however. We may have started down the road with our preferred vendor at that time to get all the details in place.”

He also said King should have changed his proposal before the TDRS plan was chosen and announced at the August meeting.

“I guess I am just not sure why, after we made our selection public, he thinks he can change his proposal,” Mount wrote. “He should have done that prior to the August meeting, no?  He knew our timing.  The old saying that hindsight is 20/20 couldn’t ring truer in this situation. I wish I could see my competitor’s proposals and could go back in after the fact.  I would be one successful businessman!”

The OHPA will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Hall room 101.


6 responses to “Oak Hills men defend driving range choice”

  1. Debora

    The benefit of doing more of this work in public would be witnesses who could prevent this “he said, he said” conversation on the stairs.
    The work of the authority must correctly take into account the needs of the community as a whole, as this is not strictly a commercial venture.
    It would appear that a good compromise was reached. Ultimately, the success ofthese changes will depend on OHPA getting a better handle on its finances, which it seems to slowly doing.

  2. Oldtimer

    Seeing the numbers wouldn’t hurt, either. It is hard to believe a practice range can be expected to generate serious revenue for the park anytime soon. The contractor/operator will be taking a big piece of all income until he has recovered his investment and made a profit. If practice ranges were such big earners, you would expect to see more of them privately owned and operated.

  3. Taxpayer Fatigue

    I find it completely bizarre that they are choosing the location to build the driving range first, then doing a master plan for the entire park second. Isn’t that backwards?

    They could save themselves a lot of time, energy and public criticism if they’d just have public meetings where the bidders present their proposals, allow the public to comment and ask questions and then have the Board members discuss and vote on the desired solution. The same way most other committees and commissions in the city make decisions. (well, some do anyway!) It is so much easier to do it this way than to have to continually defend themselves when they make back-room decisions. They can still make the same decisions but at least the public will have had the opportunity to have input.

  4. LWitherspoon

    I agree with oldtimer. Most of what we read about the driving range is about placement or process. Very little, if anything, is about numbers. Are we missing the forest for the trees?
    Now that the question of placement seems settled, the most important question is how much money a driving range would earn for the OHPA. Those projections, and the assumptions on which those projections are based, should be published widely so they can be scrutinized and, where appropriate, questioned. Let’s not have another financial debacle similar to what occurred with the restaurant.

  5. Mike Mushak

    I made my opinion about the lack of feasibility of the woods proposal clear from early on, as soon as I met the designer after her presentation at a public meeting of her proposal that was originally done in the late 90’s I believe. I asked her what her profession was, and she said she specialized in clubhouse interior decoration. Not a bad profession, but certainly not an appropriate one to design a driving range on a steep wooded site with rock outcroppings and huge ancient trees above a delicate wetlands, right next to a dense neighborhood that seemed to be unaware of the full impact this would have on their current quiet wooded view, and a location that was clear to me as a landscape architect would not work without a huge investment of grading, blasting, drainage issues affecting the wetlands, and the loss of every tree as no tree would ever survive that amount of disruption. The machines that have to pick up the balls need smooth grass to work from, so the idea that the terrain would remain naturally rough around existing big trees and rocks while at the same time cutting and filling most of the site at a highway scale made no sense and was a pipe dream. Also, and most importantly, no professional engineering or landscape architectural feasibility study had occurred of this pretty rendering done by a clubhouse designer, hence my serious skepticism.
    I am glad to read these honest comments from Ernie and Clyde. In hindsight, things could have been handled differently with more transparency and much less rancor perhaps, from both OHPA and the opponents, but it is encouraging to see a public airing of the thought process behind the latest decision.
    With further vetting and analysis perhaps to assure its viability, I hope the driving range in the new location proves to be profitable to the private business and the city, and becomes another recreational feature we can all be proud of.

  6. the donut hole

    Zoloft anyone? Give it a rest already. I can’t wait to hit the driving range.

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