Denver launches planning process for 155-acre Park Hill land protected from development

Open space battle intensifies with opponents urging city to buy back land

 

Denver leaders this week are launching a planning process for the 155-acre former Park Hill Golf Club site that has been protected as golf-related open space under a legal restriction that blocks development.

City officials on Monday told The Denver Post their “visioning” process is necessary to explore how this conservation easement could be changed.

But a coalition of residents ramped up their opposition, saying city officials are wasting time and money planning for development that cannot be done.

At a forum Monday, opponents urged city leaders to use $5 million in open space tax funds to buy back the land developer Westside Investment Partners purchased for $24 million in 2019. They said this is a last relatively inexpensive chance to preserve open space near the city center, casting it as a battle for justice and the soul of the city.

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Stop the development of the Park Hill Golf Course

Denver Post, February 7, 2021

By Woody Garnsey

Guest Commentary

Mayor Michael Hancock and his administration are again showing their true colors in support of developing the Park Hill Golf Course land in north Denver. And, they’re doing this despite the fact that the land is zoned “open space-recreation” and is protected from development by a perpetual open space conservation easement that can’t be terminated without a court order.

A month after Hancock’s 2019 reelection victory, real estate developer Westside Investment Partners, Inc., a major pro-Hancock PAC donor, purchased the land subject to the recorded conservation easement.

Here’s how Hancock and his administration have handled the proposed development of this open space land: First, Mayor Hancock clarified in the fall of 2017 that he supported Park Hill Golf Course land development when the city and the then-landowner Clayton floated a plan for the city to purchase the land for development. This plan failed after Clayton’s golf course operator sued to enforce its contractual lease rights.

Second, during his 2019 reelection campaign, Hancock’s opponents and the news media finally forced him to admit that he had development plans for the land.

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Analysis of the Park Hill Golf Course Land Conservation Easement

Revised Dec 15 2020

The starting point for analyzing the Park Hill Golf Course (“PHGC”) land conservation easement is the Colorado Conservation Easement Statute, C.R.S. §38-30.5-101 et seq. The conservation easement states explicitly that it was created pursuant to this Colorado statute. Although Clayton Early Learning and its attorney Bruce James, during Clayton’s ownership of the land, and now Westside Investment Partners, Inc. have always wanted to try to diminish the legal effect of the conservation easement by calling it a “use agreement,” it is in fact a conservation easement created under and governed by this Colorado statute.

In relevant part, the statute defines a conservation easement as follows:

a right in the owner of the easement to prohibit or require a limitation upon…a land area…appropriate to the retaining or maintaining of such land…predominantly in a natural, scenic or open condition, or for wildlife habitat…or recreational…or other use or condition consistent with the protection of open land, environmental quality or life-sustaining ecological diversity…. C.R.S. §38-30.5-101.

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Tash Mitchell Appeals To Council Concerning Proposed Council Bill 20-08051

Tash Mitchell speaks at a Denver City Council Listening Session 08-22-20.

This bill if approved will provide an amendment to the Charter of the City and County of Denver to prohibit the following without the approval of voters in a regularly scheduled municipal or special election: any commercial or residential development on land protected by a City-owned conservation easement except where consistent with the conservation easement purposes and any partial or complete cancellation of a City-owned conservation easement unless for the purpose of creating a new park.

Council Bill No 20-0851-1

Response From Maria Flora To CM. Kevin Flynn

On August 10 2020 some members of SOS Denver appeared at City Council during their open comment period.  Shortly after Maria Flora made her comment she received an email from CM Kevin Flynn regarding her comments. Email From Kevin Flynn

See below for the response from Maria Flora on behalf of Save Open Space Denver

 

VIA EMAIL ONLY

August 11, 2020

Councilman Flynn,

Thank you for your email. I am very pleased to have an opportunity to address the issues regarding interpretation of the perpetual open space conservation easement that protects the Park Hill Golf Course land (“the PHGC land conservation easement”) from development.

First of all, I think you would agree that the PHGC land conservation easement is not the best drafted legal document that we’ve ever seen. In fact, there are some internal inconsistencies that I will discuss below.

The starting point for analyzing the PHGC land conservation easement is the Colorado Conservation Easement Statute, C.R.S. §38-30.5-101 et seq. The conservation easement applicable to the PHGC land states explicitly that it was created pursuant to this Colorado statute. Although Clayton and its attorney Bruce James, during Clayton’s ownership of the land, and now Westside, have always wanted to try to diminish the legal effect of the conservation easement by calling it a “use agreement,” it is in fact a conservation easement created under and governed by this Colorado statute.
In relevant part, the statute defines a conservation easement as follows:

a right in the owner of the easement to prohibit or require a limitation upon…a land
area…appropriate to the retaining or maintaining of such land…predominantly in a natural, scenic or open condition, or for wildlife habitat…or recreational…or other use or condition consistent with the protection of open land, environmental quality or life-sustaining ecological diversity…. C.R.S. §38-30.5-101.

An interpretation of the PHGC land conservation easement must begin with an analysis of the conservation purposes that are consistent with this statutory definition of a conservation easement.  These overarching conservation purposes are “for the conservation of the [land] as open space” (paragraph 1) and “to maintain [the land’s] scenic and open condition and to preserve [the land] for recreational use” (paragraph 2). These conservation purposes are completely consistent with the statutory definition of a conservation easement and they are the legal essence of the PHGC land conservation easement.

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