Tempers Flare, Golfers Hurl Insults During Whaling City Golf Course Meeting
NEW BEDFORD- Tensions escalated and tempers flared at the Whaling City Golf Course Tuesday night, where the golf community and area residents were invited to the club house to discuss plans for the development of an industrial park set to be built on the very same land.
The City's Economic Development Council (EDC) organized the meeting to brief the public on the collaborative effort between the City of New Bedford and MassDevelopment, as well as address any voiced concerns of the project. There would be plenty.
Executive Director of the EDC, Derek Santos, came under fire quickly from a number of angry golfers and area residents who packed the club house. Frustrations were clearly expressed when the proposed physical layout of the diminished golf course was introduced. The city plans to use the higher-elevated parts of the land where the clubhouse and parking are located as their primary building spot, forming a panhandle leading to Hathaway Road.
To accommodate for this design, the EDC announced that the Whaling City Golf Course will have to convert into a nine-hole course, making it into a 'Play 9' golf program, which would restrict the amount of holes anyone can play per day to a single round of nine. Santos added to the defense of 'Play 9', citing originality as a silver-lining for those upset about the loss of half of the course.
"One thing we looked at closely was that this course was the original nine, designed by Donald Ross" said Santos. "The reason we looked at keeping that nine was the understanding that those original nine greens, or the seven that are left because the highway took away two, should be preserved at all costs."
This made no difference to a collection of golfers already upset about their favorite course in the city being reduced to half its size. Several in attendance spoke out, saying that the city is more concerned with the course being historically accurate rather than a fun place to play - as courses as small as nine holes are known to back up immensely. Golfers familiar with the course noted the proposal would lead to an overall loss of interest in the Whaling City Golf Course throughout the city, causing it further damage.
It's not just the number of daily golfers that are expected to decline by reducing the course to nine holes, but aspiring golfers as well. According to the EDC, only Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School and New Bedford High School will retain first priority to the public course. Schools like Fairhaven High School, who also use it as a home-course, will most likely have to go elsewhere.
Surprisingly, the pace of play and loss of individual holes from the course is not what upset those in attendance the most. Environmental and economic impacts the industrial park may inflict during construction or after completion were emotionally hashed out by area residents.
Nancy Warrington, a retiree living near the course entrance, peppered Derek Santos and the representatives from MassDevelopment with questions regarding the value of her own property after completion of the project, as she speculated of a medical marijuana dispensary to be opened on Hathaway Road.
"What do you think will happen to value of my house and neighborhood, that is currently set back with one road to go in and out, when an industrial lot moves in right on that road, and is right off the highway with a 'marijuana shop' supposedly on the way in?"
"It certainly won't go up" said a critical Warrington.
A contentious back-and-forth between Santos and the angry crowd continued for an over an hour. When the argument reached its peak, the insults towards Santos, New Bedford's EDC, and city politicians rose with it.
Mike Janson, a frequent golfer at Whaling City Golf Course disgruntled over the proposed changes, made his dispositions with city government clear, especially those with Ward Three Councilor Hugh Dunn in particular.
When someone from the audience questioned the attendance of Mayor Jon Mitchell or any city-councilman, another voice shouted to inform that the golf course was indeed in Hugh Dunn's ward, Ward Three.
"He's nothing but a 'carpet-bagger!' The rest of that EDC and the Mayor too," Janson angrily screamed at Santos. "It always has been and always will be about money to them, that's it!"
Dunn, in a statement he made to WBSM News, explained his absence from the club house.
"I will not be attending this evening's meeting due to a scheduling conflict. It is not the comprehensive neighborhood forum that I'd like to see and requested, rather a forum for the golfers. I do not understand that the administration and MassDevelopment want more time to put together such a forum and have been assured that one will be hosted in the near future. I want to see this comprehensive meeting put on the calendar 'ASAP'."
The Economic Development Council for New Bedford announced that the project will create more than a thousand local jobs and generate roughly $2 million in tax revenue for the city. Physical construction or altering of the land is not expected until at least April of 2018, as a series of tests to the land and soil need to be conducted to ensure the safety and longevity of the structures.