Community Planning and Development Department (CPD) Sham Process
CPD’s June 30th “Community Open House” is a continuation of the sham planning and development process conceived and implemented by CPD with the predetermined outcome of supporting the residential and commercial development plans of CPD’s real estate developer “client” Westside Investment Partners.1 CPD has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and devoted thousands of CPD staff hours in support of Westside’s development plans.
Starting soon after Westside purchased the PHGC land in July 2019 subject to its perpetual open space and recreational conservation easement, the Hancock Administration began working with Westside on plans to break the conservation easement and construct a mini-city of residential and commercial buildings on the PHGC land. CPD began the formal planning process in early 2021 by forming a “Steering Committee” to engage in a “visioning process.” Working for its “client” Westside, it’s not surprising that CPD’s hand-picked “Steering Committee” was primarily composed of pro-development supporters. In late 2021, CPD ended the “visioning process” by unilaterally declaring that the “prevailing vision” for the PHGC land would include substantial mixed residential and commercial development. And, in early 2022, CPD directed its “Steering Committee” to begin discussing a formal “area plan” that CPD will draft and likely present to the Planning Board and City Council for approval later in 2022.
The next hurdle for the Hancock Administration and Westside will then be for the Hancock Administration to submit a ballot measure to Denver voters in accordance with Ballot Initiative 301 that passed city-wide in November 2021 by 63% to 37%.2 The Hancock Administration/Westside ballot measure will seek voter approval for breaking the PHGC land conservation easement and allowing residential and commercial construction on the land. Presumably, the Hancock Administration and Westside will use CPD’s “area plan” in their campaign to support their ballot measure.
Why CPD’s Planning Process Is a Sham
The CPD planning process is a sham and it’s irresponsible for CPD to move forward with its effort to secure approval of an area plan for the PHGC land:
- Why should Denver citizens trust a planning process conceived and implemented by CPD when CPD considers Westside to be its “client”—not Denver citizens and taxpayers?
- CPD has failed to allow meaningful discussion of the conservation easement that protects the PHGC land from development.
- CPD has committed “planning malpractice” by single-mindedly only including the 155 acres of the PHGC land in the geographic boundaries of its area plan. Why is it legitimate to prepare an area plan that fails to include areas near the PHGC land that are appropriate for hardscape development and that undoubtedly will have massive dense residential and commercial development in the future? Importantly, these excluded areas include properties on the west side of Colorado Boulevard near the 40th and Colorado A-Line Station where SOS Denver has identified over 36 acres that have been assembled by two real estate development groups. And, this acreage is likely just a small portion of the land that real estate speculators have been acquiring in that area that is ideal for future high density residential and commercial development without sacrificing the protected 155 acres of the PHGC land urban green space.
- Since unilaterally declaring in early 2022 that the “prevailing vision” for the PHGC land was a substantial mixed residential and commercial development, CPD has prevented any discussion about preserving the 155 acres of the PHGC land for the open space and recreational purposes of its conservation easement.
- CPD has failed to study the traffic impacts of a significant mixed residential and commercial development project on the PHGC land.
- CPD has failed to include meaningful discussion of climate change and the health and environmental benefits of maintaining the 155 acres of the PHGC land as open space.
- CPD’s survey was an invalid push survey designed to support pro-development outcomes. In addition, CPD has ignored the valid professionally prepared neighborhood survey commissioned in 2019 by the now 66-year-old Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. registered neighborhood organization. This survey found that 77% of Park Hill respondents supported preserving the PHGC land as some kind of green space/park or a golf course.
- CPD has failed to include any discussion regarding the Metropolitan Tax Districts that real estate developers such as Westside utilize to build needed infrastructure for development projects on properties that have no existing roads, sidewalks, utilities, etc. These developer-controlled taxing entities finance needed infrastructure by issuing bonds that are purchased by investors, including the developers themselves, and that saddle property owners directly and renters indirectly with the additional real estate tax costs of paying off the principal and interest on the bonds.
- CPD has failed to include any meaningful discussion about planned affordable housing projects near the PHGC land (DelWest on 38th and Holly and the Urban Land Conservancy north of the PHGC land) where hundreds of affordable townhouses and apartments will be built without imposing Metropolitan Tax District tax burdens.
- CPD has fundamentally ignored its own commissioned “Environmental, Parks, Open Space & Recreation Technical Assessment” dated April 2021 addressing park and open space needs in the statistical neighborhoods of Clayton, Northeast Park Hill, and Swansea-Elyria. This study concluded that all three of these neighborhoods “are far below national and City averages for park acres per capita” and that–in order to meet national averages—the City would need to increase total park acres within these neighborhoods by 183.5 acres. The PHGC land is the only significant open space land in these three neighborhoods where this critical need can be meaningfully addressed.
- CPD has failed to include any discussion of the fact that if the City were to purchase the PHGC land for a designated park it would pay no more than the approximate $5-6 million fair market value of the land as encumbered by the conservation easement. Such an acquisition would be consistent with the purpose of the 2018 taxpayer-approved sales tax increase Measure 2A that was sold to voters as a parks and open space acquisition fund.
- CPD has failed to include any discussion of the fact that breaking the conservation easement would be a multi-million dollar gift from Denver taxpayers to Westside. The conservation easement which Denver taxpayers bought for $2 million in 1997 is now worth well more than $60 million (the difference between the fair market value of the land with and without development rights).
- CPD hand-picked the “Steering Committee” to have a significant majority who from the beginning have supported breaking the conservation easement and having the land developed. And, in this “area plan” phase– despite having previously allowed an RNO to appoint a replacement “Steering Committee” member–CPD prevented SOS Denver from replacing its appointed “Steering Committee” member who needed to resign.
- CPD is wastefully putting the cart before the horse conducting an “area plan” process at this time. The Colorado conservation easement statute prevents termination, release, extinguishment or abandonment of the PHGC land conservation easement without a court order that—based on changed conditions on or surrounding the land—it has become “impossible” to continue fulfilling the easement’s open space and recreational conservation purposes.
1 CPD’s documents establish that its Executive Director and her staff consider Westside—not Denver’s citizens and taxpayers—to be CPD’s “client” in this planning process.
2 Despite Westside’s expensive opposition campaign where it spent at least $636,000, Ballot Initiative 301 carried nearly 300 precincts and only narrowly lost in 7 precincts. In fact, despite Westside claiming to speak for “local voices,” the vote in precincts surrounding the PHGC land was even more emphatic—winning by 68% to 32%.