Open Space Group Kicks Off Petition Drive To Protect Park Hill Golf Course Land As City Announces ‘Visioning’ Plan For Development
By Cara DeGette
Editor, GPHN Feb 2 2021
The neighborhood group, Save Open Space Denver, has launched a new petition drive for a ballot measure that would protect the Park Hill Golf Course land from potential development.
Their efforts come at the same time the city’s planning department, in conjunction with Westside Investment Partners, has unveiled a formal “visioning” process to determine how the property could be built out.
The dual efforts are the latest in an ongoing tug-of-war over the sprawling 155-acre property at the northwest corner of Park Hill, at 35th and Colorado Boulevard. In 1997, Denver taxpayers paid $2 million for a conservation easement to preserve the land as a golf course or for other recreational purposes. The golf course has been closed since 2018. Last year, Westside Investment Partners paid $24 million for the property with the easement in place – far below market values for recent comparable commercial transactions in the area.
Westside has made it clear that it plans to develop the property — what has been less clear is how it could do so with the easement in place. State law requires a judge to make a final determination before such easements can be lifted.
The ballot question, if voter-approved, would prohibit Denver from terminating the conservation easement without a vote of the people.
“In just the last decade, [Denver has] dropped from 11th to 22nd in park land per capita, leading to overcrowded parks or non-existent recreational opportunities for families,” according to the sponsor’s new website, Yes for Parks and Open Space (yesopenspace.org/). Land development in the city has gobbled up open space, eliminating mature trees, increasing pollution and contributing to a heat island effect — which can raise local temperatures by more than 10 degrees.
Organizers hoped to put the question before voters last year, but were thwarted by the pandemic, as they were unable to collect petition signatures. A majority of city council members subsequently rejected a request to refer the question to last November’s ballot.
To qualify for this year’s ballot, SOS Denver has until mid-June to collect at least 8,265 signatures from valid registered Denver voters.
Meanwhile, last month Denver city planners launched the “visioning process” for the property, including appointing a committee to participate. Others can submit their thoughts via an online survey. Updates are at http://www.bit.ly/parkhillgolfcourse.
City planners detailed the process during the January Greater Park Hill community meeting, Courtney Levingston, the project manager, said the steering committee will be comprised of 25-27 people representing various groups, including residents, neighborhood organizations and business owners. The kick-off is Feb. 9, and Levingston described the effort as a “robust community conversation grounded in equity.”
“All options are on the table,” she said. “We don’t have a predetermined outcome.”
Several neighbors in attendance asserted the city planners were conducting a one-sided presentation, without acknowledging the restrictions that a conservation easement places on the property. “Why talk about developing a property that can’t be developed per Colorado law?” asked one attendee.
Levingston and David Gaspers, the principal in charge for the city planning department, said they were proceeding based on interpretations of what can be done with the property from the city attorney’s office.
The city planners highlighted a few possibilities that could be considered, including:
• Resumption of an 18-hole private golf course
• Park/open space (city would need to purchase and lift the conservation easement)
• Some development of the site with a large public community sized park and open space — (resident-led direction on what, how much and where)
The city planning effort is being done in conjunction with the developer, Denver Parks and Recreation and two nonprofits, Denver Metro Community Impact and the Equity Project. Denver City Councilman Chris Herndon, whose district includes the golf course land, has been supportive of development efforts for the property. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s district includes the Clayton, Cole and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods adjacent to the property. She has been a vocal critic of development.
Last June, Denver’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) voted unanimously to support the city purchase the 155 acres for a regional park. “Our intention is to purchase and preserve [the golf course land] as open space, said Leslie Twarogowski, the District 8 PRAB appointee. “[Denver] absolutely [has] the money to do this.”
A 2019 neighborhood Greater Park Hill Community-sponsored survey found that a majority of Park Hill residents — 77 percent — say they want the golf course land to remain undeveloped. The survey, conducted by the Boulder-based research firm NRC, can be reviewed at tinyurl.com/ParkHillSurvey.
The Fine Print
Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure prohibiting the following without the approval of voters in a regularly scheduled municipal or special election:
• Any commercial or residential development on land designated as a city park and land protected by a City-owned conservation easement except where consistent with park purposes, conservation easement purposes, or for cultural facilities and
• Any partial or complete cancellation of a City-owned conservation easement unless for the purpose of creating a new park?