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State official: Driving range not part of $1.5 million grant

NORWALK, Conn. – A “negotiation” with the state over $1.5 million slated for Norwalk’s Oak Hills Park has been downplayed by a state official as a technicality .

While Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said, in an email to vocal critic Paul Cantor, that the terms of the $1.5 million grant awarded by the State Bond Commission “are being negotiated,” Dave Stygar of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said there was a discrepancy that needs to be cleared up.

The driving range proposed for Oak Hills Park is not part of the plan, Stygar said, despite Cantor’s suspicions.

Cantor sent an email to Hamilton requesting a copy of the $1.5 million grant. Hamilton replied, “Terms of the grant are being negotiated and it is still in draft form.  When the document is finalized and the Mayor has signed it, then a copy of the grant document will be available from either the City Law Department or the City Comptroller’s Office.”

Since it’s a draft, it’s not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, Hamilton said.

Stygar explained that, as the administrator of the grant, he needed to have the project scope’s defined. The description of the project as approved by the Bond Commission’s agenda was “very, very brief,” he said, calling that a standard practice. He needed more information, he said.

A personal services agreement was sent to the city, and returned, he said. Subsequently, he shared it with the Oak Hills Park Authority. It came back amended, he said.

The goal now is to line up the different ideas, he said.

“If you want to call it negotiations, it’s basically, we’ve defined the project scope,” Stygar said. “It’s in line with what the Bond Commission agenda approved but I just need to make the (authority), the city and the state all on the same page.”

What’s the scope?

“It does go along the master plan,” Stygar said.

Does that include a driving range?

“When we say it’s from the revised version at this point in time, that is not part of it, no,” Stygar said.

The state will not hand over $1.5 million without supervision, Stygar said. That just isn’t done; bills are submitted to the state and then paid, he said. The reimbursement process is a little complicated because it involves a city and an authority, but the idea is that it will be billed through the city but administered by the authority, he said. The authority will send bills to the state and then copy the city, he said.

No money will be spent until there is an approved contract, he said.

“We do the contract here, it is approved at the Attorney General’s office,” Stygar said. “The date the Attorney General signs off on it is the starting date for the contract.”

Comments

14 responses to “State official: Driving range not part of $1.5 million grant”

  1. TomReynolds

    The city and the OHPA said all along that the $1.5 million is not for the driving range. Thanks, Nancy, for making it clear to that “vocal minority” who keep spreading false “facts” every chance they get and get “taxpayers” all riled up over nothing.

  2. Suzanne

    Good. Now, maybe the OHPA could start and finish the oil tank remediation and some testing on water runoff into the adjacent waterways. You know, responsible infrastructure stuff.

  3. Paul Cantor

    Mr. Hamilton and Bob Baron have been discussing the $1.5 million grant with Mr. DesRochers and Clyde Mount of the OHPA but the public has yet been allowed to see it.

    As Mr. Stygar replied to Nancy: “A personal services agreement was sent to the city, and returned, he said. Subsequently, he shared it with the Oak Hills Park Authority. It came back amended, he said.” What is the reason this amended “personal services agreement” has not been made public?

    All we know so far is that, contrary to Mr. Reynolds comment; the funds were requested by State Representative Larry Cafero at the request of the OHPA’s Ernie DesRochers “to provide a grant-in-aid to the city of Norwalk for improvements to the Oak Hill golf course. The project will include the construction of a new golf learning center, a new nature-learning center and other facility improvements. Total, This Request $1,500,000.”

    The grant was approved and now negotiations are taking place regarding how to spend $1,500,000 of taxpayers’ money on a public park in Norwalk. Part of the negotiations should include using that money to turn Oak Hills into a genuine multi-use park with a nine-hole golf course. Unfortunately, however, the OHPA has rejected the idea of a nine-hole solution out of hand. Instead it has come up with a deeply flawed Master Plan for a driving range and it wants to use the money to enable it to construct the driving range or to set the ground for its construction.

    A 9-hole golf course such as Carl Dickman’s in Fairfield would serve the needs of most golfers while opening up land in Oak Hills Park for some combination of: community gardens; soccer and other sports; bocce ball; paddle tennis, basketball, volleyball and badminton; archery; picnic areas a dog run; a skating rink; a swimming pool; cross country ski trails; a sledding area; kites and model planes; Frisbee golf; nature, jogging, and fitness trails; model boats; and other activities appropriate for a public park. And, it might be noted, a multi-use park near Norwalk Community College and the heart of the city would serve the needs of all the taxpayers of Norwalk. Indeed, it is something our city sorely lacks.

    And the evidence that the demand to play 18-holes of golf by residents of Norwalk is no longer sufficient to sustain an 18-hole course without huge taxpayer subsidies. Here, for example, are the OHPA’s statistics released in November and available at http://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/8545

    Description Sep 2013 Sep 2014 CHANGE
    Total Revenue Rounds 4,761 4,741 ↓
    Resident Adult 18 Rounds 1,332 1,256 ↓
    Resident Senior 18 Rounds 1,020 1,008 ↓
    Junior/Golf Team 18 Rounds 86 75 ↓
    Total 9 hole Rounds 488 672 ↑

    Again, taxpayers should be informed about the “negotiations” that are taking place regarding how their money should be used. Below is my correspondence with Tom Hamilton.

    Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 12:10 AM
    To: “Hamilton, Tom”

    Dear Mr. Hamilton,

    Would you please let me know how I might obtain a copy of the State’s $1.5 million grant to the Oak Hills Park Authority?

    Best,

    Paul Cantor

    To Paul Cantor
    Mr. Cantor,

    The grant is not finalized. Terms of the grant are being negotiated and it is still in draft form. When the document is finalized and the Mayor has signed it, then a copy of the grant document will be available from either the City Law Department or the City Comptroller’s Office.

    Thomas Hamilton
    Director of Finance
    City of Norwalk
    203-854-7870

    To: Hamilton, Tom

    I find your response evasive.

    In the interest of transparency members of the public should be able to obtain information regarding precisely what is being negotiated?

    My hope is that The Hour and Nancy on Norwalk will follow up on my request.

    The wording of the grant should be made public and negotiations regarding it should not be carried out behind closed door.

    Paul

    Hamilton, Tom
    Wed, Nov 19, 2014

    Mr. Cantor,

    I am sorry that you consider my response evasion. That is certainly not my intention.

    Under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, preliminary drafts are exempt from disclosure. City staff is still reviewing and proposing changes to the grant agreement, and anything presently in our files certainly constitutes a preliminary draft. We do not have a proposed document to share with anyone, because that document is still being crafted. As I reported to the Finance Committee last week, my concern with the initial draft of the grant agreement was that it seemingly committed the City to performing all the work contemplated in the Oak Hills Master plan (i.e. – work estimated to cost $4.5 million), while the grant was only for $1.5 million. We are presently discussing changes to the grant agreement that would only obligate the City to performing work that can be accomplished within the $1.5 million available State grant.

    I would note that at the present time the Common Council has not even authorized the Mayor to execute this grant agreement. Such authorization still needs to be approved by the Common Council. When I are satisfied that the grant agreement is in a form that I can recommend that the Mayor consider signing it, we will make it available to the Common Council and to the public, prior to the Common Council being asked to vote on the authorization.

    Thomas Hamilton
    Director of Finance

  4. Yvonne Lopaur

    We are being kept in the dark about the negotiations between the OHPA and city officials regarding the $1,500,000 grant that the OHPA wants to be used to fund construction of a large commercial driving range in Oak Hills Park.

    What has the OHPA ever done for the majority of taxpayers who don’t play golf? The Authority calls Oak Hills Park a jewel, but it exists only for golfers. There is no welcome sign for people who don’t play golf and are looking for a place to jog or walk or just hang out.

    OHPA’s attitude and vision is excluding the public in general. Yet when OHPA is in need of money to maintain the course the City’s taxpayers are asked for the money. The latest is the drive by Mr. DesRochers and Mr. Mount to get city forgive the $1 million debt and also to provide $3 million in additional loans to fund their pet project: the commercial driving range.

    It is dismaying to say the least. Brazenly asking for money from taxpayers even though they have more than $2 million in debt outstanding.

    The OHPA’s strategy is to defend their demands with camouflage pretending that the Master Plan has parts for the “other public”. That is why there is only one page in the Master Plan where in the limited space behind the restaurant and the parking lot the Authority sandwiches a Nature Center, Rose Garden, Great Lawn, Cart Barn, and Fitness Center..

    I wonder if the Authority is aware of the poll in the Norwalk Hour (Nov 15) in which 87% of respondents said Norwalk should not accept bids from contractors who owe the city money. If so how does it think people will respond to a poll that asks if the city should do its bidding by forgiving more than two million dollars of taxpayer loans it received in the past and then lending it three million dollars more for a large commercial driving range?

  5. Sharon

    Yvonne – READ THE ARTICLE – The Grant money is NOT GOING TO FUND THE DRIVING RANGE. Mr. Cantor – your 9 hole option is ABSURD. Where are you going to get the money to transform the golf course into some multi-use park? Who will fund the maintenance and upkeep of same. You complain about golfers – I’m quite sure if it were to change forms, you would still have much to complain about – basketball players, swimmers, NCC students, tennis players. Get over it – you should not have purchased a home across from a golf course if all you are going to do it complain about it. It was there first.

  6. Tom Reynolds

    Everybody sing! . . . and the beat goes on . . . and the beat goes on . . . la la la de da da.

    And, as someone who has played golf in Fairfield County for the last 35 years I have never heard of Charles Dickman 9-hole course. Maybe because 9-hole golf isn’t really golf.

  7. Paul Cantor

    Sharon, I didn’t complain about the golf course when user fees were covering its operating and maintenance costs and it was being managed well by Vinny Grillo senior and his son. But now due to the decline in the demand to play 18 holes of golf that you and other members of the Oak Hills Park Authority past and present refuse to recognize there is a misguided effort to construct a large commercial driving range in Oak Hills Park in the forlorn hope that it will generate revenue needed to cover the difference between dwindling user fees and the operating and maintenance fees of the course.

    That is something I object to. A large commercial driving range doesn’t belong in an AAA residential neighborhood. And the city should not be in the business of running a driving range or any other enterprise in order to subsidize an 18-hole golf course that due to a drop in demand can’t cover its costs. And furthermore, a large commercial driving range is as likely to add to the OHPA’s financial problems as solve the.

    Yes it is true that parks costs money to maintain but the cost of maintaining a public park is pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of operating and maintaining an 18-hole golf course. And the benefits of
    a multi-use park accrue to everyone not just a minority of mostly male golfers.

  8. Tom Reynolds

    And furthermore, I don’t think the Oak Hills Master Plan calls for a “Large Commercial Driving Range”. I think a better description would be an “appropriate sized, 36 bay municipal practice facility”. Has anyone seen the plans? It is not going to be a towering giant like the range at Sterling Farms. 18 of the bays will be below grade as you walk up to it. Only the 2nd floor will be above ground level. It’s a quite clever design. I am sure Sterling Farms is hoping it never gets built.

  9. Charles Brennan

    Paul now that Tom Hamilton doesn’t agree with you he is being evasive his answers seem very straight forward.

  10. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Tom Reynolds

    I think the better description is a “large commercial driving range”, and it dosen’t belong in a residential zone.

    Also, why do you say Sterling Farms is probably hoping it doesn’t get built? Is there not enough business to support 2 of these things?

  11. Suzanne

    The question still remains: how is the 1.5 million going to be used?

    If it does not provide for needed environmental remediation but results in the improvements of t-boxes, fairways, traps, pathways and putting greens, I would say that is irresponsible.

    These things should be covered by fees, a banner year for them according to all who report here.

    I am not saying the 1.5 million WILL be used for course improvements but I can’t figure out a way it would be responsible NOT to use it on the needed environmental clean up and testing.

    Especially since the OHPA is asking for debt relief from Norwalk.

  12. Tom Reynolds

    Nothing accomplished here. End of subject.

  13. Suzanne

    Mr. Reynolds, Is it the “end of subject” because, once again, the OHPA elects to be without transparency in terms of how they spend taxpayer’s money? Arrogant statement on your part. Happy Thanksgiving.

  14. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Tom Reynolds

    No Tom. It’s not end of subject. “the beat goes on”.

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