-Press Release, Norwalk, Conn.
The Oak Hills Park Authority on Thursday evening shunned a plan to build a driving range in the wooded area behind the restaurant at the municipal golf course off Fillow Street. In a unanimous vote, the authority instead authorized its Driving Range Committee to begin formal negotiations with Total Driving Range Solutions, which would build the range behind the 6th green. The decision brought cheers from a half dozen residents who oppose destruction of the woodland.
“I’m so happy — the trees are happy,” said Bitsy Farnsworth after the unanimous vote. Two firms, Total Driving Range Solutions of Norwalk and King Golf International, Inc., of Westport, responded to the authority’s request for proposals to construct the driving range. After reviewing both proposals, the committee recommended moving forward with Total Driving Range Solutions, based upon revenue projections — not saving trees, according to Ernie DesRochers, committee chairman.
“It’s not about saving the trees. It’s about paying the debt service on an awful piece of debt,” DesRochers said. “We need to proceed with this and make a decision. It’s a long way from being done, but I think it’s to the point where we have a business model that we can live with for the park.” DesRochers said the Total Driving Range Solutions’ proposal would provide the highest net revenue to the park, give the authority the option to buy the range every five years, and provide through its architect master planning services.
On revenues, DesRochers said Total Driving Range Solutions would pay the authority a “reasonable percentage of the gross vs. the fixed amount.” Earlier, DesRochers blasted some opponents of the driving range plan and laid blame on the golf course’s financial woes on the decision to build a restaurant — the largest chunk of $3.1 million in debt taken on by the authority years ago — at the golf course. Not all, however, believe that a driving range will help pay down that debt more quickly.
“I’m happy that they’re not going to construct the driving range by the restaurant,” Paul Cantor, a Fillow Street resident, told The Hour afterward. “But the suggestion that a driving range is going to solve their financial problems, I don’t think that’s true.”
Under the request for proposals issued by the city, the authority sought a company to “develop, construct and operate the practice range at no cost to the OHPA.” Earlier in the meeting, residents urged the authority not to disturb the land behind the restaurant and to consider uses other than a driving range. William Wrenn, a Weed Avenue resident and former councilman, said a 1999 master plan recommended a skating rink and nature-and-fitness trails.
Elsa Peterson Obuchowski recommended installing a Zip-line in the trees behind the restaurant. Diane Lauricella, an environmental advocate, cautioned against developing the land behind the restaurant.
“Please do not review the King proposal, because it’s in an eight to nine-acre woodland that is part of the people’s park and there are state laws and statute that prohibits its use,” Lauricella said. “It is a multiple-use park. It can be a beautiful thing. Let’s stop fighting.”