NORWALK, Conn. – The plan to improve Oak Hills Park received kudos and criticisms Tuesday night.
“You guys are striving for a world-class facility. I think we need to strive for world-class fiscal responsibility, world-class public safety and world-class schools,” said Kevin Kane, a Norwalk citizen, to Oak Hills Park Authority members.
The OHPA public hearing brought perhaps 200 people to the City Hall community room, where most chairs were taken and people stood in the back. OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount and Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers began the meeting with a presentation pf their “Strategic Plan – a Map to the Future,” before turning over the floor to public speakers.
While the master plan calls for nature and fitness trails, an ice rink, bocce courts and tee upgrades, talk concentrated on the proposed driving range.
Mount said a vote on the plan is two months away. It will go to the Common Council, he said.
Aron Karp, an avid golfer, said the OHPA has a great plan.
“Personally, I think that in spite of what we all believe is the purpose of this park, the mainstay and the greatest asset that this town has is the golf course,” he said. “This town is changing dramatically. If you look around at some of the buildings that are being put up, think about the people who are moving into town. Think about the expense and revenue that is going to come in through those people coming into town. Most of those people would definitely take and want to have some advantage of playing golf. I think there’s a very good percentage of that population that would want to play.”
The plan as proposed would help more people than the golfers as the course will attract people, he said.
“The revenue is not just from 36 bays of practice range or a restaurant,” he said. “I think it will attract more people to this town. At the end of the day, what pays for all of this is tax dollars, so it will help the city overall.”
Kate Tepper, reading a statement from Diane Keefe, said the plan is “woefully inadequate in terms of making the park economically viable,” as it ignores the declining popularity of golf. Keefe hoped the Common Council would evaluate the plan, Tepper said, and asked for “a moratorium on any additional public money to support the golf course.”
Barbara Freilen, a golfer, said more attention should be paid to the tennis facilities. The bathrooms are “old and disgusting,” she said.
Mount said tennis is on the list of things to be worked on.
“We started with what was dying, which was the course,” he said. “We have been working on that. We have now got that to a point where we think, we can now start to focus our attention on other things, because the golf course is what is supporting all that property and all the expenses.”
Ray Kodel, a golfer, said he thought the proposed driving range looked too narrow, and “really crammed.” Otherwise, the plan is great, he said.
Scott Kimmich, a vocal opponent, said it’s not just a golf course, it’s a park. “There are all kinds of things that could be here and should be here,” he said, advocating for a nine-hole course.
Nick Pisano, a golfer, was strident in condemning the opponents.
“They bring up everything they can to fight against our golf course,” he said. “That it doesn’t make money. That’s a lie. They keep saying it, they keep saying it doesn’t make money. It’s made money for years, now it’s breaking even. Normally a business keeps a line of credit. … Don’t believe the naysayers and liars. They keep lying to us. They keep saying the same things.”
Diane Cece criticized the process.
“It seems as if the process that you typically follow for a master plan would not start with this strategic plan and then back into it. This seems to me that it’s backwards,” she said. “… A master plan usually starts with an RFP (request for proposals); you call in qualified planners.”
Mount replied that the OHPA does not have $25,000 to get a master plan.
“There was a lot of public input,” he said. “… Although we don’t have a formalized master plan writer, we have taken a lot into account.”
The Planning and Zoning departments and Conservation Commission have been involved, he said. “We are going through every step that we’re supposed to go through,” he said.