NORWALK, Conn. – Both proposals for a practice range in Norwalk’s Oak Hill Park have elements of preservation in them, Oak Hills Park Authority members say, but opposition to one of the proposals remains strong.
Last week, the authority was presented with a petition with 300 signatures denouncing the authority’s preferred location, the woods behind the restaurant. Michelle Winthrop, a Twin Ledge Road resident who described herself as “the number one resident who is going to be affected,” said she would like to know how much community support there is for destroying the woods.
OHPA Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers said the proposals will be looked at carefully with the goal of making a decision by the end of summer.
“It’s really interesting,” Desrochers said at last week’s OHPA meeting. “I thought both groups really made the effort to try and do what is best for the park. That’s the one thing I really appreciated. Different visions, but it’s kind of interesting.”
Tad King of King Golf International has proposed using the woods behind the restaurant, while Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions proposes using the area behind the cart barn, now used for teaching.
“Both have pros and cons,” Desrochers said. “It’s amazing but, just to give you an idea, the cart barn site is a double-decker, 30-bay range. The one behind the restaurant, you’ll never know – there’s 41 bays – you’ll never know, there’s no deck. It’s all contoured in. Actually, the one spot where it’s double deck, it’s actually carved in on the side of the hill. So you would never know there’s a double decker.”
King said his plan would use the existing topography.
“The goal of my design is to incorporate as many of the natural features of the land into the facility as possible,” he said in an email. “Utilizing the dramatic existing contours and undulations will help achieve this.”
King said he plans to leave in specimen trees to enhance the natural feeling he is going to “great lengths” to achieve.
“There are many areas with rock ledge that are ideally positioned for target green locations,” he said. “This provides the opportunity to leave much of the ledge exposed, thereby preserving it in its natural state.”
There would be no blasting, he said, “Only jackhammers on excavators.”
Downing did not return an email asking for comment.
Desrochers said it’s a question of what works best for the park.
“I for one was very happy with both plans,” he said, last week. “I think they both have positives, they both have negatives. It’s just a process that we’re going to take through.”
The woods includes wetlands. Desrochers said the Conservation Commission would have to look at it.
He said both proposals indicate that putting a practice range at Oak Hills would be profitable.
“On the surface, when you look at the numbers, they’re pretty stunning in terms of how strong the potential is,” he said. “I was very much impressed that there is a lot of similarities – I mean, one supports the other, I think, in terms of the viability of it.”
But opponents are skeptical of the financing aspects of either proposal, which they have no access to. Scott Kimmich spoke at the meeting about research he has done on both companies, mentioning language on King’s website that has caused concern among the authority’s watchdogs.
“The ‘in-house’ method allows the owner to use local subcontractors, as well as utilize the abundance of local, inexpensive resources for the construction of the golf course,” the website says on its “case study” tab. “We provide the management, key personnel, and expertise to complete the project efficiently, and with substantial savings to the owner.”
That implies that King expects the city to pay for the range, according to Kimmich.
“I think, the trouble is, in contrary to the whole OHP strategy in the RFP, Mr. King wants to have you put up the money,” he said. “He will just take care and make sure everything is hunky dory. In other words, you’re going to take the financial risk in return for the promise of revenue.”
Authority member Clyde Mount said the committee has a lot of work to do before letting the public know details of the proposals.
“We can’t just open them up and let everybody know what the other guy is doing,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, it’s not an easy decision.”
Peterson’s petition included comments from some of the people who signed it. She read some of them, including, “Trees keep the city cooler, they process carbon dioxide,” and concerns about dropping property values.
Winthrop said you could look out the back of the restaurant and see her bedroom window.
“We came here with the purpose of knowing they’re not going to build a gas station in our backyard,” she said. “It’s disappointing that we worked hard to establish a home. We maintained it, we pay our taxes, I could go on and on about how we responsibly handled our money.”
The serenity of the property includes “very sweet bird sounds” and church bells, she said.
Those in favor of putting a range in the park say it will help the OHPA go into the black. Winthrop is skeptical.
“How far does an organization go before anybody says, you know, something isn’t right, there’s some financial issue going on here?’ she asked. To me this seems like a remedy, a patch … an error that was made that nobody spoke up to do anything about. … How can you ensure success? What kind of surveys have you done? Have you talked to other people? Do you have data to present to say, ‘hey, yeah, it’s really needed?’”