Oak Hills rolls out old ‘new idea’ in Norwalk meeting

Norwalk Oak Hills Feb. 13 2013 007
A 14-year-old rendering of a practice range a proposed for Oak Hills Park sits in Norwalk City Hall’s community room Wednesday as the Oak Hills Park Authority meeting begins.

NORWALK, Conn. – An old idea could be recycled into a new direction for a controversial plan by the Oak Hills Park Authority.

Wednesday’s authority meeting was supposed to be a public hearing on a request for proposals (RFP) to build a driving range at the course but instead began with a presentation about an environmentally friendly “target range” concept from about 14 years ago. Members said that would be used to shape a new RFP.

The change angered some of the about 70 people in attendance.

“I appreciate this but we were here to talk about an RFP,” said Paul Cantor, an opponent of the driving range, who was involved in an angry exchange of words early in the meeting.

Diane Cece was responsible for the sudden switch, authority member Ernie Desrochers said. At a recent authority meeting, Cece told members they should do a proper site plan and feasibility studies before putting out an RFP.

“The fact of the matter is she had a really good point,” said Desrochers, the chairman of the driving range committee and the leader of Wednesday’s meeting.

Committee members talked things over, he said, making contact “over the last four or five days” with the designers of a master plan for the course done in about 1999. A productive conversation ensued, he said, between committee members and Anita O’Brien, a self-employed architect formerly with Concept Golf Construction. O’Brien was involved in the master plan, a redesign of the course done with famous golfer Gary Player.

“We realized that the authority had already spent money, time and effort doing a master plan and coming up with a driving range that makes a lot of sense,” he said.

But the meeting quickly turned contentious. Desrochers said O’Brien would explain her ideas and former Common Councilman Bill Krummel, asked, “Does she intend on being a bidder in this process?”

Desrouchers expressed exasperation. “I don’t know what this group can do to make you a happy person,” he said.

Norwalk Oak Hills Feb. 13 2013 042
Anita O’Brien, a self-employed architect, explains a 14-year-old design for a target range at Oak Hills Park Wednesday evening at Norwalk City Hall.

He went on to say that authority members are just “community members trying to help the community of Norwalk,” drawing applause from driving range proponents.

O’Brien then explained what was a cutting edge, environmentally friendly proposal when it was designed — a practice range using the existing terrain.

“The practice range with 22 stations was designed to be in a series of pods that are set at different angles,” she said. “It was to follow the contour of the natural terrain of this area. The terrain is perfectly set up for a practice range because its slightly curving toward the concave piece of the property.”

She continued, “The object was not to create a practice range as if you have no rock outcroppings or trees, or plantings, that type of thing, but to create what are called targeting greens. You basically are targeting a specific area on the golf course to hit. That creates a very environmentally friendly type of range, which allows for a very natural feeling, rather than a very large and open space.”

She admitted that things had changed since the concept was drawn up, as a restaurant was built in a different location than the plan called for. She also wasn’t aware of wetlands in the area, but said current practices could make the design even better.

The course could try to obtain an Audubon certification, she said. “That’s a very highly desirable thing for the city of Norwalk,” she said. “It shows how our city is looking for the future of preserving our environment.”

The idea was criticized by some members of the public as the meeting reverted to the public hearing it was advertised as.

“It’s something a little more creative than what you usually expect from a developer,” said former Common Councilman Bill Wrenn, an outspoken critic of the driving range proposal. “But Audubon approval or not, a working forest is of more benefit.”

Others spoke of the hours of operation of a proposed driving range, the environmental aspects and asked about the lights that might be on at night.

The agenda had included approving the RFP, but Desrochers said the committee would take many of the comments that were made and incorporate them into a new RFP.

There will be another meeting scheduled.

“This is a process,” Desrochers said afterwards. “I don’t think we’re going to change people’s minds who are against it, but we’re going to listen to what they have to say – make it environmentally friendly, sustainable, that kind of thing.”

Updated with a title for Bill Wrenn, 2:25 a.m. Feb. 15

Norwalk Oak Hills Feb. 13 2013 100
Anita O’Brien, a self-employed architect, explains a 14-year-old design for a target range at Oak Hills Park Wednesday evening at Norwalk City Hall.

Original version:

NORWALK, Conn. – The old will become new in Norwalk under a plan being considered by the Oak Hills Park Authority, being announced at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Authority members say Diane Cece made good points at their last meeting and they decided to revisit a master plan developed 12-13 years ago with famous golfer Gary Player. They say they will have to write a new request for proposal (RFP), and have changed Wednesday’s agenda to include a presentation of the “new” idea.

Anita O’Brien, a self-employed architect formerly with Concept Golf Construction, has pulled out drawings she said she hadn’t looked at in 10 years and presented them at the beginning of the meeting. The plans spell out an environmentally sensitive “target range” that may qualify the course for an Audubon Certification.

Nevertheless, some of the about 70 people attending the meeting are not pleased. Before O’Brien began to speak former Common Councilman Bill Krummel, asked, “Does she intend on being a bidder in this process?”

Authority member Ernie Desrouchers, who was leading the meeting, expressed exasperation. “I don’t know what this group can do to make you a happy person,” he said.

More fireworks followed in a contentious yet productive meeting.


6 responses to “Oak Hills rolls out old ‘new idea’ in Norwalk meeting”

  1. M. Murray

    Shouldn’t be too hard to estimate how many people will use the driving range and how many use it to walk in the woods. Go with te plan that more people will use to enjoy the park

  2. Bill Wrenn

    Walkers outnumber golfers anywhere you go, Norwalk included.

  3. Original BARIN

    Question, what happens when the range is built and they finally realize it does’nt help sustain the course, will the city be asked for more funding?
    Just because a range helps sustain courses in other municipalities it may not happen here, then what?
    You certainly can’t unbuild the range and we are stuck with it, just like the restaurant.

  4. Suzanne

    Real data (apples to apples public courses of similar size and scope) shows that driving ranges do NOT sustain golf courses, BARIN, unless you look at gross receipts. Figure in expenses and other overhead to maintain and it adds slightly to the overall income of a course. A driving range is not the profit center the OHPA would like you to think. And, good question! After installing this very expensive amenity and the Course fails (they are already broke), what does happen to the range? And who will have to maintain it? Norwalk taxpayers?

  5. Original BARIN

    If it doesn’t work there should be a contract stipulation that they do unbuild it and make it open space, at no cost to taxpayers of course.
    You can put a time limit on it, say five years, at that point it’s show me the money time.
    Include a no squabbling clause for all OHPA members (including the Golfers) when it’s time to go back to open space.
    On the flip side of that, if it works we keep it. Fair enough?
    Keep in mind how the close proximity of the range will be to the proposed Mosque site, quite a bit of open space will be gone forever in such a small neighborhood, if both projects move forward.
    In my opinion they must say no mas to the Mosque proposal, glad the city is backing the zoning commission and their decision to deny the proposal.
    It is not about discrimination, it is simply too big for the small parcel, as well as the traffic nightmares for the neighborhood.

  6. Tim T

    Sounds like a waste of money. I say rip it down and build a Mosque .

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