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Plans for Norwalk driving range are sketchy

A Norwalk resident walks through Oak Hills Park. The area will become a golf driving range if Oak Hills Park Authority members get their way.

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – No one will consider the latest driving range proposed for Oak Hills Park an eyesore if it gets built, Shelly Guyer said.

Guyer, the interim executive director of the golf course, said the driving range is proposed for a wooded section bordered by Chipping Lane and North Taylor Avenue. That is one of the major differences between this proposal and one about 10 years ago, which drew a lot of opposition from neighbors.

“We believe this area is kind of the least intrusive overall,” he said. “The plan in 2002 had the range going in where 16th and 17th holes are. You would be able to see it from Fillow Street – I guess people might think that would be an eyesore.”

The other major difference between today’s plan and the previous one is that the city would invest no money in the range.

Beyond that, details are few.

“I don’t really know too much about what they want to do,” said Gerald Foley, the city’s purchasing agent.

Foley was asked to draft a request for proposal (RFP) but felt he did not have enough information. So he provided a draft with little to go on other than previous proposals put out by the Oak Hills Park Authority, and told authority Chairman Bob Virgulak to think it out more.

Foley said the range is behind the employees’ parking lot, but, “I can’t even tell you proximity, what angle it’s facing.”

He has also told authority members that their desire to have the driving range open by spring was probably unrealistic. “That’s too tight, a developer might say,” he said.

Construction at the proposed site would not affect golfers, Guyer said. “The good thing is it’s away from the golf, so it’s something they can be working on while the golf course is open,” he said. “Even if we can’t have it ready April 1, it’s still something that could potentially be here sometime during the golf season.”

Authority members are hoping for 30 to 40 golf stalls in a double-decker arrangement, with the balls being hit north, toward Chipping Lane, as shown in the PDF attached below. People in a few of the houses on Chipping Lane or North Taylor might see part of the driving range, but no one on a major road would, he said.

Some people have objected that putting a driving range in that spot will destroy the trails that wind through the woods. “There will still be trails around it,” Guyer said. “We’ll still have some areas around the golf course that people would potentially be able to walk on.”

The trails have been poorly maintained in recent years, he said. There are no trail markers.

The authority plans to put out an RFP to see if someone is interested in building and operating a driving range on the hilly terrain.

“The strategy right now is to try and find someone who would be willing to build it and run it at no cost to the park or to the city, and then, at the end of whatever this lease period is, would turn it back to us,” Guyer said. “We would share in the revenues for the lease period. We would get something out of it; don’t know how much obviously.”

“We’ll find out once the RFP goes out,” he said.

Would a company be willing to work under those conditions? “It would depend on how much it would cost, what the projections are on the profit,” he said.

He hopes to have the RFP out in mid-January, with a hoped-for deadline for proposals in February. When the plan is more fully developed, the authority will hold a public hearing,.

“I believe that’s the appropriate time to open to the public because you know where you’re going,” Guyer said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some valid responses back.”

Oak Hills proposed driving range

An aerial view of Norwalk’s Oak Hills Park shows the area proposed for a driving range.

Comments

8 responses to “Plans for Norwalk driving range are sketchy”

  1. Suzanne

    The sketch with the big cloud on it shows the only significant parcel of woods left at Oak Hills (assuming the straight pink line is the property line) being destroyed. It does not indicate what the elevation changes are, an exact survey of the proposed dimensions of this driving range, at what end the proposed double decker of 30-40 bays desired would be located, what the necessary cut and fill would be to achieve a gradual high to low slope (preferred by golfers in a driving range according to the Golf Range Construction site approved by all of the significant acronyms of professional/amateur play that I found with a quick search on the Internet) and, finally, what the setbacks would be. Further, the “rule” of thumb yardage preferred with netted ranges is 350 yards in length. There is no scale to indicate whether this dream scape of a driving range described by Mr. Guyer can even be accommodated.

    Further, in destroying such a significant stand of woods, I would expect an environmental review and thorough survey of not only the scope of the project but what flora and fauna is being destroyed. Add to that a traffic study: if Mr. Guyer plans on having every one of those bays filled, how often per day?, in order to make this driving range the revenue stream that has been promised in order to save Oak Hills, a huge number of cars are going to be added to the residential roadways already used by, among other things, school and the Wheels buses.

    Now, all of the above does not even consider the initial problem: Gerald Foley, the City’s purchasing agent cannot even begin the RFP process because no details have been provided by the Oak Hills Authority. At the moment, he is guessing at the plans using proposals from the past. But, this driving range has promised to be different.

    I guess it is different: different because the Oak Hills Authority is not providing any definitive financials to prove that this driving range is going to do all it says it’s going to do. Different because there has been no forensic audit (thank you “Oldtimer”) to show just where that 2.+ million dollars went that Norwalk so generously lent and how it is going to be paid back (other than employing retirees to defer full professional payments to their workers.) Different because there is no golf superintendant (a person pointed out to me who has the necessary expertise to create a driving range in such an unforgiving, fully wooded, ledge-filled location); Different because the meetings the driving range sub-committee (or whatever they are calling themselves) refuses to discuss just what they are planning. Different because the City of Norwalk is not flush and, in fact, is being pressured from all sides to take care of needs far more important than allowing local golfers a warm-up to their round by hitting a bucket of balls.

    April 1st? How about never until the constituency, whose money it is after all, knows what you are really doing with funds lent to the golf course, funds earned by the golf course, funds spent by the golf couse.

    The lack of professionalism described in this article is shocking and presumptuous. Mr. Virgulak refuses to communicate “until the next public meeting” which belies the fact he is a public servant beholden to City of Norwalk residents. I maintain he owes us all of the above – I love golf but I am one taxpayer who does agree with this driving range until a transparent and professional process is adopted, communicated and we can be clear about what is going on.

  2. The stalls for golfers would be on the southernmost end of the area outlined in pink, for easy access from the parking lot, I believe.

    1. Suzanne

      Thank you for the clarification, Nancy. However, I would expect a diagrammed drawing showing this from the Authority without having to speculate.

  3. Barry McLaughlin

    Driving Range, Yes Please!!!!!
     
    I have been following the articles and editorials about a potential driving range at the Oak Hills Golf Course in our City of Norwalk. Some of the statements speak about other City courses that survive without driving ranges, like Shorehaven and Silvermine, both are private clubs not open to the public. These facilities have a much different structure than Oak Hills, which needs new golfers to compete with other very successful public courses like, Sterling Farms, Longshore, Fairchild Wheeler and Tashua Knolls (All have driving ranges producing significant revenues).
     
    The statement about golf courses surviving brings to mind an additional thought about the game of golf and its survival in our City. If this great game is to survive it MUST encourage new players of all backgrounds through solid learning programs. Many local area public facilities have been offering significant learning programs for adults and children, who then use the practice facilities (driving range) to continue to hone their skills. This encourages family participation and continues to provide an enjoyable safe place for healthy outdoor fun.
     
    As for land use and taxing, this raises some interesting points. The Authority and the City elected many years back to open a restaurant over a driving range to serve the golfing public. Many local residents at that time opposed the driving range in lieu of the extremely unsuccessful restaurant. Now, those same people want to continue to oppose a true revenue source, which also provides many services to the golfing public, while the restaurant continues to flounder. The money the golf course has to pay to subsidize the restaurant building, which by the way does not even house the golf course operations or golf proshop seems to have been a bad judgment call. Since we can not just replace the restaurant with a driving range, this building will continue to be a burden on golf for many years to come. I remember seeing a number of approximately $3 million dollars loaned to the Authority for cart path, irrigation upgrades and the construction of the restaurant building, with the majority of the money $2.1 million going to the restaurant building. I am presenting this reality so that the local citizens can see what the real problem truly is. Golf is being TAXED because of the poor judgment of those who did not understand that a driving range encourages new golf business and significant revenue streams. (Range ball revenue and golf lessons)
     
    The City of Norwalk has the power to consider creating a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the construction of a driving range at Oak Hills Park. There are procedures that the City and Authority will have to follow and make public. I hope that some misguided comments made by a former employee, who himself should shoulder a lot of the burden for the down turn in golf activity, will not be taken seriously. The conditions of the golf course have deteriorated significantly over the last three seasons. The City of Norwalk and the public golfer should be thrilled that the Authority has been enlightened about the positive attributes of a driving range. Unlike the restaurant, which came at a cost to the City and the public golf user, the driving range plan would potentially be funded privately.   
     
    Cranbury Park is a beautiful property which all Norwalkers can utilize for pleasurable park activities. Oak Hills Park should remain a golf course and driving range adding recreational opportunities and revenue while providing value as a City owned municipal golf course.
     
    Respectfully,

    Barry K. McLaughlin
    Proud Norwalk Resident and Homeowner.

     

     

  4. Suzanne

    ABSOLUTELY NO TO THE DRIVING RANGE!!! (At least not yet.)

    I too am a “Proud Norwalk Resident and Homeowner” as well as a golfter who has yet to see what makes this driving range such a significant revenue stream. There is no data to prove it yet, presumably, significant expense to the land and the City to establish a driving range.

    If there are no successful education programs at Oak Hills, perhaps that is where at least one person on the Authority should be concentrating their time.

    If the restaurant was such a big mistake, it is still an asset that, again, maybe at least one person on the Authority could focus their time on to make profitable.

    You have named four existing public courses with driving ranges. If these are all available to Norwalk golfers why don’t they use these existing facilities (like I do?) Using a driving range is practice or a warm-up. It does not preclude using Oak Hills as well to play the entire game of golf.

    Golf is a recreational activity. It is optional. You have named at least three things this Authority could do to improve the number of rounds being played on the course: improve education programs (or create them), use the re-opened restaurant when it becomes available, re-invigorate the existing greens with proper management.

    There have been no solid numbers forthcoming from the authority except for the amount borrowed as you cited above. There have been complaints about improper bill payment that was admitted to by the recently hired golf professional. A forensic audit of the books and management decisions is overdue.

    While I appreciate your enthusiasm for golf (I love it very much myself and have enjoyed many rounds at Oak Hills) and for the town, I would ask that you consider improvements to existing amenities at Oak Hills, proper management and the other pressures that stress the City of Norwalk’s finances like education, infrastructure, police, etc.

    I just don’t believe throwing more money at this course, this optional activity, this game (and, I admit, I hate saying it that way but, in fact, this is true), is going to make Oak Hills financially viable without addressing the basic problems that currently plague it.

    1. Joe

      Finally someone gets it! I am not for or against a Driving Range but I am totally against giving this place, which I think is a huge asset to the City, and the incompetent people in charge of its operations more funding when it is obvious they can’t do it.

      The current Executive Director, who from what I read was just some guy who plays golf there, is blaming the office Assistant for the bills not being paid, am I reading this right? Isn’t he supposed to be in charge so who is to blame here? He also brags that he is not getting paid a lot of money in the article, has anyone ever heard of you get what you pay for?

      The real issues a Oak Hills are not if a Driving Range should or should not be built, but the operations of the facility, I am a long time golfer in Norwalk who now goes elsewhere to play because of what has happened to our course. I don’t know what the answer is to the problems at Oak Hills, but I am sure they will not be fixed with the current people in charge.

      1. Mr. Guyer said he is a retired vice president of Merrill Lynch. He is also Assistant Tournament Director at Connecticut State Golf Association. Here is his Linked in profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/shelly-guyer/18/1b7/73

      2. Diane C2

        Joe, I also don’t care about a driving range one way or the other (not yet, anyway, until we know the facts, same as Suzanne- no sense throwing good money after bad). I am most concerned by the process under which this is even being discussed, and the complete lack of transparency and proper management there. I was at the public meeting where Mr. Vorio expressed serious concerns about invoices not getting processed and paid, and was appalled, even to the point of submitting my own resume for consideration to come in and get the place in shape.

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