I'm sorry if you are upset that your arguments against the Day St project were shown to be incorrect and were not acted upon. You had some strange motivation that I don't understand for fighting that project, and your opinion was shared by 2 people who are very money motivated. I feel they used you. If this is simply the next thing that you are going to hurl accusations on, I will not be surprised if the result is the same.
David, to begin with, the arguments against the sale of Day St were and still are correct. The properties are valued in excess of $2 million. You authorized an Agreement to Purchase Option with the Norwalk Housing Authority for $1 dollar. The math does not change. I am not against the redevelopment of Washington Village - it is disgusting and disgraceful that the NHA has allowed it to deteriorate to the point it has and to treat flooded tenants with a complete lack of compassion. Building a dense, mixed-use, mixed rate development can't happen fast enough for my taste. But not by giving away city land, that will be turned over to a private developer (Trinity) and not by telling residents they can all return if there is a possibility they can't. I can only hope HUD has more sense than local folks....
Now, if you want stop whining about Day Street and what you incorrectly labeled as "misinformation", we can continue to discuss the Oak Hills Park issue.... View Comment
Councilman McCarthy, here is my line-by-line rebuttal to your misinformed account of Oak Hills saga....apologies in advance to Voice readers for the length, but want to cover all the misinformation in his letter:
Councilman McCarthy says: Repeated letters to the editor and comments online, seemingly from the same 6 or 8 folks, have raised some spurious issues that need to be set straight for the citizens of Norwalk with respect to the Oak Hills Golf Course and the Authority that controls it.
The facts: The issues being raised are all factual & well documented: financial difficulties, potential mismangement, lack of a feasibility study, lack of transparency, etc. In 2012 the Authority missed it’s loan repayment, and in 2013 needs a bridge loan just to pay expenses. Residents have been told that no feasibility study was conducted during the time Mr. Virgulak and others were meeting with Mr. Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions nor would they produce any documents from TDRS or any proposals. As to transparency, the latest iteration of a plan, really the one from 1999, was sprung on residents during a public hearing on the plan they reviewed from 2012. As to mismanagement, one need only look at the allegations of Oak Hills’ former superintendent, which thus far having been proven true.
Councilman McCarthy says: I can’t golf anymore, but I know that when I did, I would have used a driving range. Whether one can and will be built at Oak Hills remains to be seen.
The facts: Mr. Virgulak never investigated whether one could be built, but rather worked with Total Driving Range for almost 12 months determining the site and initial plan. By the time the behind-closed-door meetings were brought out at an Oak Hills Authority meeting last summer, the range was being pushed as a project, with the public unaware of the continued efforts to construct a driving range. Following the next several meetings, apparently only an ad-hoc committee met, but never noticed the meetings to the public- Mr. Virgulak continued to deny the existence of the committee even after it was exposed (yes, by a former, albeit, ultimately disgruntled employee).
Councilman McCarthy says: But a small group should not work overtime to hijack the legitimate workings of our municipal boards and authorities.
The facts: If only they were legitimate workings! Legitimate workings include public meetings, open and transparent communication, meeting minutes and other documents, and does not include an authority chair advising me to “investigate NEON instead”. By the way, that “small group” last go around was comprised of over 1,000 petition signatures to stop the madness.
Mr. McCarthy says: The bottom line is that Oak Hills has been and continues to support itself.
The facts: Wrong again Councilor… the cash flow issue was known in September when they had already started robbing Peter to pay Paul – the treasurer admitted recently she had to make a decision to risk a shortfall or make the loan repayment on time, and chose the latter. Former Course Pro Vinny Grillo even wrote a letter warning residents that unless the Authority had reserves on hand of a specific amount, OHPA could not make it through January. The treasurer continued to avoid disclosing any problems (publicly at least) until finally in November they were no longer paying vendors on time and had no money to rob from Peter – the jig was up before Hurricane Sandy hit, but that was part of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Rather than come clean at the December meeting, the treasuser “declined” to present a financial report at the authority meeting – first time ever that I could find in recent years minutes. The warnings from the former superintendent continued into December, with most of us in denial that the Authority could actually need cash for payroll and bare minimum operating expenses. I for one thought that perhaps both the former pro and the former superintendent were disgruntled and trying to alarm taxpayers….but, alas, the public admission in January- from Treasurer “we need to ask city for $150,000 loan”.
In 2011, they missed their payment on the refinanced $3 million loan, which had already been restructured once for them. Then it was restructured again in 2012 following the missed payment. They only made the September 2012 loan by taking money they knew they would need for the winter operating expenses.
Councilman McCarthy says: There have been some cash flow issues because of the economy that have led to the city extending out the terms of capital loans, but the course runs like a business.
The facts: Partially true – in addition to extending terms of the existing loan, the council this Tuesday will likely approve an additional $150k loan for operating expenses. Saying this course runs like a business is an insult to small business owners everywhere. Any business run like this would be one thing: out of business.
Councilman McCarthy says: As such, they need to overcome some poor decisions made in the distant past related to the set-up of the restaurant and other infrastructure decisions. The driving range is just another aspect of that business plan. The Authority needs to increase its revenue through more extensive use, while minimizing impact on the neighborhood.
The fact: They need to increase revenue through rounds of golf, THAT is what a self-sustaining golf course is. Then they can consider what other types of appropriate recreation might be revenue-generating, environmentally-friendly, and in keeping with the character of the neighborhood that surrounds it.
Councilman McCarthy says: Oak Hills is a premier asset for the City of Norwalk, and they are appropriately exploring whether a driving range will be additive to the overall experience and economics.
The fact: True the course is an asset to the city, one amenity that perhaps a small group of prospective home buyers might consider. But again, OHPA was never exploring a driving range, rather they were planning, nay, banking on one! Do you honestly not understand the difference between a Feasibility Study, a Request for Qualifications and a Request for Proposal? Only when read to them verbatim did the OHPA members even stop to consider the mandate of the Plan of Conservation and Development, which states the following under Section C.3.1.1. Parks:
“Consider the construction of a municipal golf driving range by examining sites in which such a facility would be in keeping with the integrity of the surrounding neighborhood and its environmental conditions while recognizing the need to preserve public park open space to the greatest extent possible.”
Recently OHPA Member Mr. DesRochers has begun latching on to the words “examining sites” and stating to whoever will listen that that is what they are doing now and intended to do all along. But that is not exactly true either: Instead, until recently they were quoting from and relying on an old Master Plan of the park that predates the current POCD and one they interpreted as free reign to put a range as they wish.
Councilman McCarthy says: The vitriol on the part of the few people that seem to oppose this exploration phase is unfortunate.
The facts: Okay, for the last time: there was NO exploration phase that was public – where have you been for the past 6 months? They did the “exploration phase” starting in November of 2011 and continuing through the fall of last year, announcing plans to have a range designed, constructed and operated by a third party, even to the point of laying out the specific location for the new driving range.
Councilman McCarthy says: Rather than using facts, it seems mystical statements from faraway dentists and unsupported statistics are what stand in as an effort to frame the issue.
The facts: Facts? NOW you want facts after I asked the Council and BET to investigate the finances and operations of Oak Hills? We have plenty of facts and data, and much of it from reputable golf industry associations and professionals – a fellow name of Jack Nicklaus comes to mind. The opinion of the dentist you refer to happens to be shared by many. And if put aside that his brother was former pro at Oak Hills, surely you respect the opinion of highly regarded Norwalk native son Paul Grillo of Sterling Farms, home to a profitable course and yes, a driving range. Note that Sterling Farms experiences the same hurricanes and other weather conditions as Oak Hills. While Mr. Grillo may have a vested interest in keeping his the only driving range nearby, surely you don’t think he is providing false financial data to us. The information is a matter of public record in Stamford. In Norwalk, uh, not so much.
Councilman McCarthy says: Conflating the operations of the course with potential removal of trees and trying to spin this issue negatively via confusion are not the way to move forward.
Facts are: Conflating? Confound it, Councilor, do you think YOU can separate the issue of clearing trees from the issue of building a driving range? What would you suggest: building a treehouse driving range? And you want to see spin? Watch the OHPA start back-peddaling on everything from the scope of the project, to their intention to engage the public, to they always “intended” to examine alternative range sites, to calling it a bucolic Practice Range instead of the term they have used for all these years: Driving Range.
Councilman McCarthy says: I urge anyone concerned to come to one of the scheduled meetings to learn more.
The facts: I, too, urge everyone concerned to come to one of the scheduled meetings IF you can find the schedules. Last Thursday’s meeting was never on the city calendar, and now a new meeting cropped up for Tuesday, with two days notice. The agenda was issued Friday and indeed they intend to review and approve the range RFP document.
Councilman McCarthy says: There will continue to be an opportunity for neighbors and citizens to come forward and be a part of the process.
The fact: “There will continue to be…” is very misleading and disingenuous Councilor, when you know they only just opened the process to neighbors and citizens at the insistence of this “same 6 or 8” you mentioned in your opening line…
dunnebster: I'm very surprised at your last post, and a bit disappointed. As someone who fights fervently for fiscal responsbility in this city I would think you more than most would applaud those of us who show up, ask the tough questions, and demand some accountability from anyone watching the books (at OHPA, the BOE and the City).
By the way, where can you or I sign up in City Hall for a loan to tide us over until we get our tax refund to pay our property tax for 1.55% and a 10-year term? Same situation as OHPA, sir, in that they didn't budget or manage particularly well and now they can't pay their bills. View Comment
Now the back-peddling, history re-writing and 'spin' has begun from three OHPA members - let's recap:
1) They've gone from calling it a Driving Range, which denotes behemoth footprint with many bays to a Practice Range, which sounds smaller, kindler and gentler.
2) They seek to trivialize and dismiss taxpayers who are asking legitimate questions by dubbing them as "hysterical and intellectually dishonest" so to entice others to disregard the them.
3) They portray themselves as the purveyors of truth and transparency when addressing the latest (nay, 14 year old) plan for the driving range, but don't disclose in their letter that the rendering and scope of this plan was literally sprung upon the public at the beginning of a Public Hearing on a different plan!
4) They describe the driving range as almost bucolic, and it indeeds sounds that way compared to what they really wanted to do. All along many of us suspected this band of "driving range at all expense" radicals would use a tactic often used by local developers: I call it “the reverse bait and switch”. It goes something like this:
First, submit a plan for something so offensive and not in keeping with the neighborhood characteristics that it serves to smoke out all the opponents. Next, label those opponents and anyone who dares to ask questions as "ignorant, negative, against progress, anti-golf.....". Next, keep these same taxpayers at bay and make getting even the smallest amount of information ahead of time impossible for them, so that it seems that nothing the OHPA does can satisfy those who dare to ask questions. And finally, voila, present another seemingly less offensive plan, but one that still has questionable merits, so they can say "Gosh, what do these folks want? We scaled it back - we saved the environment- we lowered the nets - nothing will satisfy them". This gets OHPA off the hook from holding a Public Hearing on the real plan before they issue an RFP as they will cry 'But we already had a public hearing - how many hearings do these people want?!"
5) Give a statistic that supports your case, but do not acknowledge the opinion of seasoned golf professionals and superintendents whose data proves otherwise.
6) Blame Mother Nature on the woes of the course, instead of the lack of planning for such events, and the failure to supplement monthly reserves at a level to ensure loan pay back and coverage for winter operations. It's not just the money they lost at Hurricane Sandy, but the tens of thousands they amassed from April to September that served only to cover just the loan. The robbing peter to pay paul must have gone on for months, but the jig was finally up in October, BEFORE the storm.
7) Instead of recognizing that over a thousand signatures were collected during the last attempt to construct a range, the OHPA members describe the effort as that of "a very few people....who were able to deny....recreational resource". Nice spin, folks. I wonder how OHPA would feel if a developer comes in tomorrow with plans to build a beautiful new driving range elsewhere in Norwalk? Perhaps a "very few" of the "driving range at all expense" supporters would be looking to deny Norwalkers of THAT recreational resource?
So now that the “spin” is in effect, let’s hope that concerned Norwalkers (golfers and non-golfers alike) will evaluate the facts and decide for themselves if the OHPA is above board with their intentions, is being transparent with taxpayers, and if a civil discussion on the woes of the OHPA and the possible remedies is in order.
@connected - I've been dabbling with a rebuttal to Councilman McCarthy's highly inaccurate account, but you've done a fine job here. I'll post mine when done, complete with redundancies as I agree with most of your assessment. View Comment
As to "call the cops", well that might be really easy as Mr. Virgulak requests ON DUTY patrol officers at the OHPA public hearings. Nice, huh? What is he afraid of? Some disgruntled out-of-town senior golfers? Those patrol officers should be, well, say, patrolling! I don't want the few cops we have on patrol at night to be babysitting Mr. Virgulak like their his own security detail for pete's sake.
As to FOIA complaints, Mr. Virgulak has admitted to an overall lack of understanding of the regulations and to problems in the past. Recently Mr. Guyer has been most cooperative in remedying their oversights and violations whenever they are pointed out to them, but I assure you that continued disregard for proper agendas, any illegal use of Executive Session, or untimely minutes should certainly be considered for future complaints.
@dunnebster: In defense of 'connected', let me say that for a short period of time there was much confusion over whether the request went into the Board of Estimate and Taxation as a loan or not. Because the BET uses the word "appropriation" and not loan on their agenda, it appeared that they might simply give the money to OHPA. It was subsequently determined thru communications with Finance Director Hamilton that the request was indeed for the a and that is what was considered and ultimately approved by both the BET and the Council's Finance Commitee. The matter moves on to the full Council ths Tuesday at 8pm.
If you are interested, prior to the Council meeting the OHPA Ad-Hoc Driving Range Committee is meeting to discuss the Driving Range RFP (7pm in the 2nd floor lounge). View Comment
Seriously? THIS letter is filled with more half-truths and misinformation than a city public works committee meeting!
The "plan" to which the Authority members now refer was literally sprung on unsuspected residents at the beginning of the Public Hearing held to hear comments on the plan from last summer! Talk about a bait and switch and complete disregard for FIOA and generally accepted protocol for a public hearing - ridiculous that you publish a notice for a meeting on one plan, and then hold the meeting relative to one that no one has seen in 14 years, or ever.
More to come..... View Comment
"Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things."
Though the concept of Choice Neighborhoods Transformation is a well-intentioned and admirable way to encourage mixed-income housing along with the social, health and educational network for economic improvement, NOTHING of this vote can be construed as positive when the taxpayers of Norwalk apparently have no say in our how our property and tax dollars are used. I'm betting that not one future Council member will have the couarge to say no to the looming infrastructure costs we'll be hit for - estimated in the tens of millions.... View Comment
Alfred, despite their well-intentioned support for the project, the Council did NOT approve the Washington Village Improvement Plan as your headline suggests. Rather, as stated in your first paragraph, they have thus far only approved the Option to Purchase Agreement for a land sale if and when NHA is awarded the CNI grant from HUD. Just to be clear.
Issuing a request for proposals is a slap in the face to residents and taxpayers. LONG before they draft one they should be holding public information sessions on whether one should be considered at all.
Then a feasibility study to determine the, well, feasibility! (economically, environementally, etc).
Then, when the public has expressed a desire to have the driving range, would one consider putting out a bid for proposals to design, construct and operate it. View Comment
If a range is going to generate SOO much money, then how about a driving range installed in one of the "empty" development holes in Norwalk???
Then at least we get some tax revenue on the darned thing.... View Comment
We’re looking to MAKE the course economically viable, and we want to OPEN a dialogue with the neighbors.” (Chairman Desroches)
The statement above speaks volumes to the fact that the Authority clearly knows two things:
1) The course is NOT economically viable now.
2) They have not engaged the neighbors, much less the public, we taxpayers, owners of the park.
The third thing they absolutely don't get is that they are putting the cart before the horse - the questions and discussion among them yesterday only further illustrates the need for a Feasibility Study, followed by a Request for Qualifications (their own dialogue on determining if a bidding company is qualified was bizarre, and clear indication that the inmates are running the asylum at Oak Hills. View Comment
Dear horsegirlk: I hope you are not stuck, and I am sad that it is so bad that you hate living here. No one should have to hate where they live. Anything P&Z does can be undone, or at least have the consequences mitigated. I hope you will write again and tell us more about which change of use impacted you, and a general idea of where you live (I respect your privacy and obvious desire to not rattle any cages - I'm happy to rattle a few for you). View Comment
sounds like a recs and parks 'guy walks into my office" scheme, which almost always ends up as some get-rich-quick-plan utilizing one of our public park spaces -
OR something to do with other rumors about a private club and a new pool? View Comment