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Oak Hills Park: An endangered winter wonderland

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NORWALK, Conn. – The parking lot by the restaurant in Oak Hills Park was almost full Tuesday, the stream of children and their parents were streaming both ways taking a path by the 7th tee to and from the best hills in the park for sledding, tobogganing, and snowboarding.

The transformation from a golf course to a winter wonderland, with scores of laughing children, was something to behold. It is something that has been occurring every year after every snowfall. But it is a transformation that will no longer take place if the Oak Hills Park Authority has its way and a large commercial driving range is constructed on top of one of the hills blocking access to the area.

Indeed, once the driving range is constructed, you can say goodbye to the winter wonderland and laughing children in the park.

 

Families enjoy a snow day on the hills at Oak Hills Park.
Families enjoy a snow day on the hills at Oak Hills Park. (Photo by Yvonne Lopaur)

Comments

44 responses to “Oak Hills Park: An endangered winter wonderland”

  1. Charles Brennan

    The area by the 7 th tee has nothing to do where the driving range would be. The proposed range location is between the 1st and the 6th green which is a flat area. None of the sledding hills would be touched with the range in the proposed location.

  2. Yvonne Lopaur

    @Mr. Brennan

    You are wrong.

    The OHPA plans to demolish the cart barn in the picture in order to construct a large commercial driving range hard up against the area where in the picture above you see people walking. Hence, the driving range, that the Authority euphemistically refers to as a Golf Learning Center, will destroy Oak Hills Park as a place where children go to sleigh ride in the winter. Ready access to the best hills will be blocked. Trees will be cut down. Ugly nets will be put up. And the sound of children laughing will be replaced by the sound of golf balls being thwacked.

    The OHPA master plan (pages 39 and 40) calls for demolishing “the existing Pro-shop and Administration building” and replacing it with a “new 5,000 foot square foot practice area for putting.” It also calls for providing “practice area upgrades in between restaurant building and 7th tee that would include a new 1,000 square foot sand trap and chipping area. The green could also be used for putting during peak times.” And for constructing “a service building that would be used to sell driving range golf balls and provide for three bathrooms for public use (one handicap).”

    Where do you see in those plans any concern for families with children who would like to enjoy the Park in the winter?

  3. Charles Brennan

    If it is the winter the putting green is closed and the access to the 7th hole and the hills on that side of the course are intact. I am not sure what trees being cut down has to do with sledding and the ugly nets are something only people on the golf course can see. I don’t think people sledding care about looking at nets. If the snow is that deep most likely the range will be closed any way.

  4. EveT

    A diagram of where the proposed driving range would go is shown here
    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/02/oak-hills-plans-progressing-public-hearing-coming-up/
    The photo of the diagram is credited to none other than Yvonne Lopaur.

  5. PKN

    This is an outrage, how can all those people have so much fun. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha, this was funny. Believe me, you will still have fun after the range is in. The range will be on a flat area, the hills will remain and the people in these pictures will still have fun. The Range will not effect anyone’s sledding. This is another distortion, misdirection, whatever. Look at the ‘Master Plan Layout’. The hills will be there, the golf balls and sleds will coexist.
    Meet you in the restaurant for some lunch.

    Maybe this author should write some more fiction and can get it published.

  6. Kevin Di Mauro

    @PKN and Evet

    Your comments would have more authority if they were posted using a family name.

  7. Paul Cantor

    The OHPA has no interest in preserving the area pictured for sleigh riding in the winter. Rather it plans to construct a driving range, a 5000 square foot practice area for putting, and a 1000 square foot chipping area that together will be the equivalent of putting up a sign saying “SLEIGH RIDING PROHIBITED” or “CHILDREN NOT WELCOME”.

    Indeed, the Authority’s primary goal is to preserve the 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park for a small and dwindling minority of mostly male golfers at whatever the cost to everyone else. That is why it called on Total Driving Range Solutions to develop its so-called “Master Plan.”

    Total Driving Range Solutions is a recently established private sector firm interested in profiting from its hand in glove relationship with the Authority. And since neither TDRS or the OHPA have been able to convince a lender in the private sector to loan them money to construct what they like to refer to as a golf learning center but really is a poorly conceived 36 bay driving range they are counting on taxpayers to front them the money to construct it.

    It is unfortunate, therefore, that due to a general lack of awareness of what is going on they have had some success in getting taxpayer subsidized loans and a grant from the state. And their plan for the use of the money from the grant is a scandal in the making.

    Just go to TDRS website to read what EDR has to say about the TDRS-OHPA relationship. There you will find this gratuitous statement by the chairman of the OHPA’s driving range committee:

    “The TDRS team helped us define the opportunity at our facility and then helped us develop a very creative solution that had to please a broad constituency. TDRS demonstrated their skills and professionalism throughout the demanding RFP and Master Plan processes. They are easy to work with and were willing to go that extra mile when needed – which made our job easier. We are excited as we move forward with them in the coming months.”

    “Move forward” with them? So TDRS has already been granted the right to build the driving range if the Authority manages to get taxpayers to loan it the more than $3,000,000 required to construct it? In other words there will be no competitive bidding for the proposed project? Is this the way the Authority looks after the interest of the public?

    In short it is the poorly conceived and badly written Master Plan whose centerpiece is the driving range. Who is going to profit if the driving range is constructed? TDRS for sure. But not children who enjoy sleigh riding in the park in the winter. And not taxpayers who will be footing the bill for the driving range. And, when user fees from driving range patrons don’t cover the cost of servicing the taxpayer-subsidized loans used to construct it, not even the OHPA.

  8. Jim Perkins

    The OHPA will put out some ridiculous RFP for architectural services tailored to meet requirements that can not be met by any other company but Total Driving Range Solutions because they have already done a large portion of the work in the hopes that they will build a driving range at OH.

    The only reason they did the drawings so far for free is to build their resume because they have NEVER built one of these before. Then the OHPA will say “we put out the RFP and TDRS was the lowest qualified bidder so they get the job” it’s all very scripted and pre-planned why else would Total Driving Range Solutions do all this work for free so far?

  9. Debora

    @jim perkins,

    make no mistake. The driving range bid is already done and awarded to TDRS. The master plan was thrown in for free because:
    a) TRDS backed down from its promise to finance the building of the driving range in exchange for a share of the revenue from running it and OHPA realized they needed an up to date MP to hit up the city and state for more money; and
    b) the lease with the city requires that a fully approved MP is required before adding a driving range to the park and the old MP was not approved and did not contemplate putting the driving range where they now want to put it.

    In 1998, when OHPA $2.5mm in loans were granted to fund the DR, a restaurant and other improvements that included improvements to the cart paths. That money was exhausted on the restaurant and other improvements because the council did not see the value in the DR.

    Now OHPA wants almost double that amount to make radical changes to the course, the facilities and to build the DR.

  10. ANS

    Yvonne

    I just wanted to tell you that you don’t know what your talking about. The most popular spots for sledding are from in front of 13 tee down (unaffected by driving range if it ever happens) and from 6 green and 5 tee down (both also unaffected by driving range). I guess basic map reading is not one of your fortes, or is it just a case of spewing negativity about the management of the park. The latter, given your history, seems more like it.

  11. Suzanne

    I think the 3 million being requested from Norwalk for the driving range should be used to fund comprehensive mental health services (maybe some in the OHPA would be interested?) It is, after all, the latest and greatest funding cut proposed by our illustrious governor.

  12. Yvonne Lopaur

    @ANS

    The OHPA is not concerned about children. Indeed, members of the Authority have complained in the past about children sledding in the park because sledding damages the grass. As for the location of the driving range: no one is certain exactly where the OHPA will end up locating it if heaven forbid our misguided politicians provide them our taxpayer dollars to constructed it because the Authority has changed its plans so many times. All that is known for certain is that it is to be a large ugly monstrosity that will dominate the area adjacent to where children like to sleigh ride in the winter.

  13. ANS

    @ Yvonne – So you agree that in fact it isn’t going on a hillside, but near it. The purpose of this letter was obviously your latest effort in a smear campaign.

  14. Paul Cantor

    ANS:

    Ad Hominem attacks on Yvonne do not an argument make.

    Oak Hills Park is a public park that belongs to all the people of Norwalk. Children as well as adults who do not play golf should view it as a place to go to enjoy a wide variety of activities. But the OHPA’s single minded focus is on turning the park into a private preserve for a small and dwindling number of mostly men who want a taxpayer subsidized 18-hole golf course and a driving range.

    The Authority is so set on meeting the demands of this small and dwindling minority that it won’t ever consider reducing the size of the course so more of the land in the Park can be opened up for activities enjoyed by people including children who do not play golf; activities such as sledding and tobogganing in the winter or even just playing tag or hide-and-seek in the summer.

    Of course the Authority has been forced to recognize that there has been a dramatic decrease in the demand to play golf. But its response to that decrease in demand is not one you would expect from a body that is mandated to place the interest of all taxpayers ahead of the interests of the significantly less than 10% who regularly play 18-holes of golf.

    Its response to the decrease in the demand to play golf is to spend money on marketing the course to wealthy golfers from surrounding communities and construct a driving range. Everything else in its so-called Master Plan amounts to window dressing or just pure nonsense. The Plan, for example, calls for a nature learning center, fitness center, rose garden, cart barn, parking lot and great lawn to be squeezed in an area behind the restaurant hardly large enough for parking alone.

    Perhaps a more sensible approach to salvaging the golf course than coming up with pure nonsense would be to experiment with the user fees that are charged. That is the approach that the E. Gaynor Brennan Golf Commission in Greenwich is taking (see the excerpt from the Stamford Advocate below).

    The problem with that approach, however, is that when fees are increased it leads to a decrease in rounds played. So if the decrease in rounds played is great enough revenues will fall rather than rise when fees are raised.

    Therefore, given the drop in the demand to play 18-rounds of golf it is unlikely user fees will ever cover the cost of the course in Oak Hills Park. More importantly, given the dramatic decade long 44% drop in the demand by residents of Norwalk to play 18 holes of golf there is no justification for taxpayers to continue to subsidize the golf course in the Park.

    The reason they are doing so, however, is that though golfers are a small minority of the population they are a politically well-connected minority. And then of course a number of politicians are members of that minority. So the very fact that the OHPA exists and behaves in the manner it does is a prime example of special interest politics.

    FROM THE JANUARY 28 EDITION OF THE STAMFORD ADVOCATE:

    ***STAMFORD — Citing new fees and lagging usage, a city golf course has asked to raise its rates to play through. The E. Gaynor Brennan Golf Commission asked the city in November for permission to increase its fees $2 nearly across the board, with a $5 hike for nonresident permits. The matter is scheduled for a public hearing before the Parks and Recreation Committee of the Board of Representatives on Thursday evening. “The overall play has trended down the last few years…” Golf Course Superintendent Michael Sullivan said. “Back when Tiger Woods first came out, everybody took up golf because they thought it was easy.” But the realities of golf — long hours, difficult techniques and high costs — soured many would-be golfers.***

  15. T2 Again

    Do you know what I think? I think the members of the OHPA are the ones behind the deflation of the Patriot’s footballs.
    They hate children, too. Hahahahaaaaaa

  16. ANS

    Paul
    Yvonnes original claim was, in fact, false. She said so in a response – “…adjacent to where children like to sleigh ride in the winter”.

    Resident rounds at Oak Hills,(proof in the numbers you previously provided) are up.
    Non-resident rounds are also up.
    Decrease the size of the golf course? I’d like to see how it does this year.

  17. Paul Cantor

    ANS

    Yes after dropping 46% from 2002 to 2013, last year resident rounds increased by 4%. Overall, resident rounds dropped 44% in a twelve year period. Nevertheless, you view the 776 round increase last year after a decrease of 18,076 rounds in 12 years as an encouraging sign.

    Hence you write: “I’d like to see how it does this year.” O.K. Then please correct me if I am wrong: you don’t agree with the OHPA’s premise that the driving range is needed to generate revenue because user fees alone won’t cover the cost of the golf course.

    Rather you are hopeful that next year and on into the future so many more rounds will be played that user fees will cover the cost of the golf course.

    Even some golfers, I expect, will be happy if that is the case since it is my understanding that not everyone who plays golf at Oak Hills thinks the driving range is a good idea.

    Here again are the figures for resident rounds played on the golf course in Oak Hills Park.

    2002 38,918

    2003 30,527

    2004 32,747

    2005 36,110

    2006 30,800

    2007 29,812

    2008 29,486

    2009 28,110

    2010 27,539

    2011 22,493

    2012 21,516

    2013 20,842

    2014 21,618

  18. ANS

    Paul – It is encouraging if like you say national trends are down and Oak Hills is up. It proves the new “regime” there is doing the job.
    I would love to see a range. I could take my kids there to learn to golf instead of going out for three holes at a time. This matter consumes you, doesn’t it?

  19. Kevin Di Mauro

    @ANS

    This matter consumes taxpayer dollars. The vast majority of Norwalk residents do not play golf. Pay off the 2 million dollar debt, and stop asking for millions more to build a driving range.

  20. Kevin Di Mauro

    @ANS

    Resident rounds were up 4% last year, but where are the profits? There were no profits, but there was a loss of over $107,000. Maybe the reason for the increase in rounds was do to all the discount packages. What a snow job.

  21. DeerMooo

    @Kevin Di Mauro: “This matter consumes taxpayer dollars.”

    Please don’t drag out this ridiculous trope: an Oak Hills Park without the golf revenue will cost enormous amounts of taxpayer money and resources. Amounts that make $3MM over 10 years look like peanuts. Opponents of the range and the course have admitted as much on this site. I encourage you and anyone to examine the 2014-2015 city budget to get an idea of what it would cost taxpayers to staff up and maintain another park without OHPA.

    * Against the driving range? Fine.
    * Think golf is a poor use of parkland? You have a right to your opinion.
    * Worried about children being forced to see a large net in winter? Let’s discuss.
    * Think that the problem with OHPA is that it “consumes taxpayer money”? Give me a break!

    Look at the historical and projected costs for comparable Norwalk parks (that do not have the revenue source that Oak Hills has) and then please explain how curtailing the operation a golf course will save taxpayer money.

  22. Kevin Di Mauro

    @DeerMoo

    Why should I give you a break? I don’t play golf, and yet the OHPA is asking me and all of the city’s tax payers to forgive 2 million dollars of debt currently owed and risk an additional 3 million dollars on a driving range. How absurd. The golf course should be reduced to 9 holes. Tear up the OHPA Master Plan, and give the tax payers who DON’T PLAY GOLF something for their money.

    Also, I would like to know why you and others like you don’t post your comments using your real name.

  23. cc-rider

    Do any of the Oak Hills (not in my backyard) critics live outside of West Norwalk?

  24. Paul Cantor

    DeerMooo:

    Mr. Di Mauro is right and you are wrong if you look at the 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park from the point of view of all taxpayers.

    COST OF THE GOLF COURSE.

    People who don’t play golf don’t benefit from the golf course. But they would benefit from other activities they might enjoy on the land situated in Oak Hills Park that is dedicated to golf. So a significant part of the cost to them of the golf course may be measured in the value they place on the activities they must give up in order for golfers to have the 18-hole golf course.

    In addition, since user fees from golfers do not cover the cost of the golf course, the OHPA has repeatedly come to taxpayers for subsidized loans and grants. And those loans and grants also have what economists refer to as a real opportunity cost to taxpayers. In other words, the money that ends up in the hands of the OHPA has alternative uses to which it might better be put.

    In summary the cost to all the taxpayers of Norwalk of the 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park is significant.

    BENEFIT OF THE GOLF COURSE. And what is the benefit of the golf course to taxpayers who do not play golf?

    Taxpayers who do not play golf get little or no benefit from the golf course.

    In sum from a cost/benefit perspective the cost of the golf course to most taxpayers far outweighs its benefits.

    COST OF THE PARK WITHOUT THE GOLF COURSE.

    You are correct, of course, when you say a public park costs money to maintain. But the cost of adding maintenance of Oak Hills to the budget of the Recreations and Park Department would represent a tiny fraction of the taxpayer dollar.

    BENEFIT OF THE PARK WITHOUT THE GOLF COURSE. On the other hand the benefit to all the taxpayers of Norwalk of having a multi-use park near the heart of the city is significant.

    SUMMARY. The benefit of reducing the size of the golf course and using the land freed up as a result for activities enjoyed by non-golfers would greatly outweigh the costs.

    NOW WITH RESPECT TO YOUR COMMENTS THAT I HAVE ENCLOSED IN QUOTES BELOW:

    • “Against the driving range? Fine.”

    Good. I’m glad we agree about that.

    • “Think golf is a poor use of parkland? You have a right to your opinion.”

    And you, yours. But my claim is that my opinion if put to the test would be shared by the overwhelming majority of taxpayers. In other words, if you conducted a well-constructed scientific survey you would find that most taxpayers would prefer the land on which the golf course sits be used for activities enjoyed by non-golfers. And the reason I feel confident I am right is because non-golf playing taxpayers outnumber golfers by a large amount.

    • “Worried about children being forced to see a large net in winter? Let’s discuss.”

    I am not worried about children seeing nets. However, from an aesthetic point of view I think golfers and non-golfers alike would be unhappy with a large commercial driving range.

    • Think that the problem with OHPA is that it “consumes taxpayer money”? Give me a break!

    Sure. But I’d appreciate it if before you take that break you would consider how, from a cost to all taxpayers benefits to all taxpayers point of view, you would defend an 18-hole money losing golf course that takes up almost all the land in Norwalk’s second largest park.

  25. Jim Perkins

    @ANS

    KD is completely correct! Who cares if OH is up 100% over last season? If they don’t make a profit they are still a losing operation!

    They have $80k less in bank this year then same time last year so that’s encouraging to you?

    The only job the new “regime” is doing is trying to fool everyone that all is wonderful at OH.

    And BTW I don’t live in west Norwalk.

  26. Jim Perkins

    And ANS if a range is built and you decide to go there instead of your 3 hole rounds with your kids how will that help pay the debt borrowed for the range? You will now not be purchasing rounds but buckets of balls instead which I assume will be even less then a round of golf.

    Thanks for proving that the driving range will actually be very hard to pay back the debt borrowed to build it, maybe that’s why the OHPA can’t find someone to finance it and they want the taxpayers to foot the bill.

  27. DeerMooo

    @PaulCantor: “… the cost of adding maintenance of Oak Hills to the budget of the Recreations and Park Department would represent a tiny fraction of the taxpayer dollar.”

    I suppose we’re making progress: at least you acknowledge the point that this isn’t really an argument about costs in dollars. One consequence of what you advocate is the spending of orders-of-magnitude more tax dollars than are being spent now. You wouldn’t hesitate to add very significant line items to the city budget in expenses and capital costs if it meant turning off the golf course.

    “People who don’t play golf don’t benefit from the golf course.”

    So what’s your point? People who *play* golf don’t benefit from any other park in the city.

    And people who don’t have a dog derive no benefit from Taylor Farm. People who are not interested in community farming or historical building derive no benefit from a large portion of Fodor Farm. People who don’t like the beach derive no benefit from a large portion of Calf Pasture. People who don’t have a boat derive no benefit from the boat slips at Vet Park. People who don’t play baseball or softball derive no benefit from the multitude of ball fields. People who don’t hike or walk derive no benefit from your nature trail. And so on and so on…

    You say that your “opinion if put to the test would be shared by the overwhelming majority of taxpayers” and therefore, you conclude, golf must go and new taxpayer dollars (including tax dollars from golfers themselves) must be spent on your cause of killing golf operations. The fact that virtually every alternative use for Oak Hills dreamed up by you and your allies is something offered in at least one other park in the city matters not to you. In your perfect future, it’s golfers specifically who get nothing.

    Tyranny of the majority – a majority that you theorize exists and unsurprisingly is in lockstep with your exact opinions.

  28. Paul Cantor

    Deer Mooo,

    Again, I would like our policymakers to use cost/benefit analysis when considering how to spend our taxpayer dollars.

    You write that people who play golf don’t benefit from public parks. That is not true. Of course they benefit from having access to a public park. And you might note that public parks are true public goods (i.e. goods that are non-rival in consumption and for which exclusion is not possible). Hence, due to the free rider problem they are not provided by the private sector.

    Golf courses however are private goods for which the free rider problem doesn’t exist. Therefore, they are provided by the private sector to the extent there is a demand for them.

    Here is how Raymond Keating, the chief economist for the Small Business Survival Foundation puts it (http://fee.org/freeman/detail/fore-watch-out-for-government-golf):

    ***”In the end, there is no justification whatsoever for government involvement in the golf business. Even if one subscribes to the idea of market failure, certainly none of the criteria for such failure—i.e., monopoly, public goods, external costs, or inadequate information—exist in the case of golf courses. The only reasons for the existence of government golf courses are patronage (another opportunity for politicians to dole out jobs), special-interest pressures (some golfers want cheap golf, courtesy of the taxpayers), and government revenue (politicians believe they can make money with golf facilities).”***

    You also argue people who don’t have a dog derive no benefit from Taylor Farm…people who don’t play baseball don’t benefit from ball fields, etc. Again cost benefit analysis should be used in evaluating how taxpayer dollars are spent on each of these activities. Since ball fields are not nearly as extensive as an 18-hole golf course the cost to allocating land in a public park to ball fields is minimal. Meanwhile ball fields when not in use are used for many other activities. So they benefit a wide variety of people. I could go on but I think by now you should understand that in order to make the case for the golf course you need to use cost benefit analysis.

    Unfortunately for you and other resident golfers, however, that case is difficult to make because user fees and in particular user fees from residents do not cover the costs of operating and maintaining the golf course. And the reason user fees do not, cannot, and will not cover its costs is because the demand to play 18-holes of golf is too limited and, for reasons that have been well documented, has been decreasing over many years.

    Meanwhile, as pointed out previously, the golf course provides no benefit to the 90% of residents who do not play golf. So there is a significant additional cost to maintaining it that should be measured as the value to taxpayers of all the other public park uses the land on which it is situated might be put to.

    You mention that there are other parks in the city where people who do not play golf can go to enjoy the activities they prefer. Yes, and this should be taken into account when determining what use the land in Oak Hills Park should be put to. Again, the way to address the issue is with cost/benefit analysis.

    The benefit to the residents of Norwalk of having a large multi-use park near the heart of the city far outweigh the costs. The cost of having an 18-hole money-losing golf course take up nearly all of the land in Oak Hills Park prevents the residents from realizing those benefits. Hence the cost of the 18-hole money-losing golf course far outweighs its benefits. Consequently our elected representative should stop using our taxpayer dollars to subsidize the golf course.

    Finally, you throw out the term “tyranny of the majority” in your response. That term refers to a situation in which the majority oppresses a minority. Do you think you can make a convincing case that golfers are an oppressed minority? I don’t. Indeed, as Raymond Keating points out, as long as they are willing to pay the cost of playing golf, golfers have plenty of opportunities available to them.

    So once again I would point out that the reason the OHPA continues to receive taxpayer subsidies to maintain the golf course is that a relatively privileged well-organized and politically connected small and dwindling minority of golfers has been and continues to be catered to by politicians some of whom are members of that minority. In short, the taxpayer funded subsidies to the OHPA represent a shameful example of how special interests politics corrupts our democracy and leads to a misallocation of resources.

  29. TomReynolds

    OHPA wins again because you guys have solved nothing in this conversation. I think them saying silent in these frivilous “arguments” make you all look silly.

  30. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Tom Reynolds

    You are a perfect example of today’s golfer. Would you like me to buy you a new set of golf clubs for your birthday?

    This is another example of sarcasm.

  31. Jim Perkins

    @ Tom Reynolds

    I actually suspect that YOU are on the OHPA.

  32. ANS

    Maybe all this debate could be avoided if NON wouldn’t print “opinions” passed off by the author of the letter as fact and easily proven WRONG.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ANS

      Right you are. We should only print the words of those with vested interest in the “house” argument, and we should especially give those words full authority even though they come from anonymous posts. Kind of like all the times over the decades I have been assured by PR people that if I want the “truth” I should come to them.

  33. ANS

    You didn’t know you were printing a plain good old fashioned lie?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ANS
      Everybody on either side says the other is lying, and, frankly, neither side has established its credibility. Who’s to say who is lying? We heard that the OHPA was going to contract to have a driving range designed and built by an outside company on that company’s dime. Then that changed. Just one example. We give voice to all sides. If we know something to be incorrect, we make that known. Frankly, we can’t be sure what is fact and what is not in this proposal.

  34. TomReynolds

    JP – I know several of them quite well.

  35. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Mark Chapman

    Thank you for your frank admission that even NON “can’t be sure what is fact and what is not in this proposal”. If professional journalists such as yourself have uncertainties about this issue ,all the more reason the public should support people like Paul Cantor and Yvonne Lopaur who are trying to shine a light on things.

  36. cc-rider

    It is easy to support Cantor and Lopaur when there is an opaqueness to the cost of what they are actually proposing. They don’t have the foggiest idea of what it would cost to reduce the number of holes at Oak Hills and get all up in arms when people point out the costs to operate other city parks.

  37. Kevin Di Mauro

    @cc-rider

    Do you have a real name to support you allegations?

  38. Paul Cantor

    CC Rider,

    Please see my response to Deer Moo above.

    I am not at all “up in arms” about people pointing out that there is a cost to public parks. Of course there is a cost. But the benefits of turning Oak Hills Park into a genuine multi-use public park would outweigh the costs.

    As it is the golf course in the Park costs taxpayers in two ways.

    First because user fees don’t cover its operating and maintenance costs they have had to subsidize it with low interest loans that have had to be restructured and with a grant to cover its capital costs.

    Second they have to give it exclusive use of valuable land in the park that could easily be put to alternative uses most of them would prefer.

    Again, please read my response to Deer Moo above with the quote from Raymond Keating, the chief economist for the Small Business Survival Foundation.

    One tentative win-win solution is to reduce the 18-hole course to nine holes. That solution should not be rejected out of hand. It would be a generous concession to resident golfers for which they should be grateful.

    Oak Hills Park is a public park. Golf is an activity in the park that takes up nearly all of its land even though only ten percent of the residents of Norwalk are golfers and the number of rounds they have been playing at Oak Hills has fallen dramatically over the past twelve years.

    The OHPA’s so called Master Plan appeals for taxpayer money to construct a driving range and upgrade the course. So far there has been no attempt to explain how the benefit of moving forward with that plan will outweigh the costs from the point of view of the 90 percent of residents who do not play golf.

    Therefore, rather than making ad hominem attacks on those who object to more of their money being spent on the course those who favor the plan should explain how the benefit of the driving range and the course upgrades will outweigh the cost for the 90 percent of residents who do not play golf. And in order to do that they might:

    1. Identify the benefits.
    2. Put a dollar value on those benefits.
    3. Identify the costs.
    4. Put a dollar value on those costs.
    5. Calculate how much greater or less than the benefits are the costs. If the costs are greater than the benefits it means from the point of view of the 90 percent of residents who do not play golf the 18-hole course should be reduced in size or eliminated.

    Here is my calculation:
    1. Those who do not play golf do not benefit from the golf course.
    2. Hence, the golf course is of little or no value to them.
    3. The cost of the 18-hole golf course to those who do not play golf includes the cost of:
    i. giving up using the land on which it is situated for activities they enjoy.
    ii. more than one million dollars in grant money slated for course upgrades.
    iii. taxpayer subsidized loans whose terms the OHPA has failed to meet (see, for example, the excerpt below taken from an article in The Hour that appeared four years ago).
    4. These costs add up to millions of dollars.
    5. Conclusion: since the costs of the 18-hole golf course exceed the benefits by millions of dollars from the point of view of the 90 percent of taxpayers who do not play golf it should be reduced in size or eliminated.

    And here is the argument the OHPA has been making.
    1. Those who play golf benefit enormously from the golf course.
    2. Those who don’t play golf also benefit because their taxpayer dollars are not used to maintain the land on which it is situated as a public park.

    The fundamental flaw in that argument is that it views the golf course as a business run by the government for the benefit of taxpayers rather than an activity in a public park that can only be justified if the demand for it by residents is sufficient to cover its costs. Indeed that is the fundamental flaw in the OHPA’s Master Plan as well.

    In other words, as the OHPA’s Master Plan makes clear, the OHPA does not view itself as managing a park. Rather, it mistakenly views itself as managing a business.

    “Parks, and recreation is a $6-8 million annual business,” its Master Plan concludes for example. And “The City of Norwalk is in the recreation business.” And:

    “work needs to be completed as part of our overall business strategy to remake Oak Hills as the best public golf experience in Fairfield County…the primary revenue center for the business will come from the ongoing use of the OHPA 36 bay 270 yard long outdoor driving range…Our business plan assumes that we will average gross sales of $490,000…In the event of an economic downturn, the business may have a decline in its revenues…The Golf Learning Center business will expand and stabilize during the first three years of operation…The Oak Hills staff needs to continue its program of direct marketing to tournament and outing prospects to bring in a larger share of that business…”

    Unfortunately, for the OHPA, even if it were true that it were a business the business would be bankrupt. As the most recent audit of its financial statements concluded, for example, the: “Oak Hills Park Authority incurred a deficit of $107,672 for the year ended June 30, 2014 which raises substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.” And, “current liabilities and deferred revenues have increased by $94,173 over current liabilities reported at June 30, 2013.” In short as a business the OHPA is a failure and due to the decrease in the demand to play golf is likely to continue to generate ever-increasing losses.

    But, of course, the OHPA is not a business. It is an autonomous body set up by the government to manage a golf course in a public park so that it covers its costs.

    Yes, public parks cost money to maintain but taxpayers in every major city of the world have concluded that the benefits they provide far outweigh their costs. Just think of all the children and taxpayers who do not play golf who might be able enjoy spending time in Oak Hills Park if they were not prevented from doing so by the OHPA because the Authority’s priority is to maintain a money losing 18-hole golf course whose costs from the point of the 90 percent of residents who do not play golf exceed its benefits by millions of dollars.

    ***OAK HILLS DEBT RESTRUCTURING PLAN DEBATED. By Robert Koch, Tuesday, January 4, 2011. “With a slump in golfing at Norwalk’s municipal golf course, the Oak Hills Park Authority is looking to restructure its remaining $2.3 million of debt to the city. Overall, the Oak Hills Park Authority borrowed $3,092,186 from the city for three major projects: $97,582 to install cart paths, $794,604 for an irrigation project and $2.2 million to construct the building that is now home to Quattro Pazzi Restaurant. In fiscal year 2003, about 52,000 rounds of golf were played at the course. That figure fell to 41,042 rounds in fiscal year 2011.” (Note last year 40,973 rounds were played at Oak Hills, i.e. fewer than the 41,042 played in 2011 when the OHPA had to restructure its debt).***

  39. cc-rider

    This argument would be a lot stronger if in the city of Norwalk had zero parks at all and making this change would fill a void. The town already has many parks that provide venues for sports and various outdoor activities.

  40. Kevin Di Mauro

    @CC-rider

    I think Paul Cantor’s recommendations would certainly fill a void in West Norwalk. The only municipal park that I know of in that area is the little postage size space in front of the Ponus Ridge Middle School that overflows to dangerous levels in the fall season.

  41. Kevin Di Mauro

    The population of Norwalk will be growing substantially with the completion of the residential developments now underway. Not only will the city’s educational system be tested, but also the need for recreational park space.

  42. T2 Again

    And it will need a golf course, Kev

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