By Veronica Penney New York Times September 30 2020
Globeville Landing Park, a newly redesigned green space northeast of the Denver city center.Credit…Kevin Mohatt for The New York Times
DENVER — In most American cities, white residents live near parks, trees and baseball fields, while communities of color are left with concrete and the heat that comes with it. Now, in a push that could provide a road map for other cities, officials in Denver are working to rectify that historical inequity.
The effort, one of a handful around the country, has been bolstered by an environmental tax that added tens of millions of dollars to the city budget. It involves purchasing land for new parks, repairing derelict playgrounds, adding recreation centers and planting trees in areas where shade is sparse.
Correcting decades of discriminatory municipal planning is especially important as climate change heats up American cities. Adding green space, researchers have found, can help residents cope with rising heat and brings all sorts of side benefits, like filtering air pollution or boosting residents’ mental health.
I take great offense to Kenneth Ho’s letter in the July issue of Greater Park Hill News regarding the development (or not) of the Park Hill Golf Course.
As a principle in Westside Development Partners, the company that wishes to develop the golf course, Mr. Ho stands to make a great deal of money on the project. That’s the business of business, I get that. Yet, in his letter, he’s all about convincing us that Westside’s primary motive is for the betterment of our community. I call bull.
He states that Westside supports a “civil, transparent community process.” Well, the members of Save Open Space Denver are members of our community. They are neighborhood volunteers. They are our community activists. Listen to them. But, no, what Westside wants is the appearance of community input and, then, they will proceed in making as much money as they can off the project. Because why? Because Westside is not a charity: it is a business and the business of business is to make money.
Mr. Ho also refers to green gentrification. He refers to it as “such a big issue that there is an entire field of study around Parks-Related Anti-Displacement Strategies (PRADS).” He infers, I believe, that it’s such a complicated thing we poor, lowly community members cannot possibly understand it. But we do understand it. We understand it all too well.
Further, the very article Ho suggests we read (nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2019/December/greening-without-gentrification/) says “for large park projects in low-income neighborhoods, planning for PRADS needs to begin at the same time as planning a park before investors recognize the potential of new park projects.” Let me repeat that: before investors recognize the potential of new park projects. (What? Did Mr. Ho not bother to read it? Or, did he think we wouldn’t read it?)
First, it is important to underscore the fact that Stapleton resident Mr. Ho is an employee and part owner of Westside Investment Partners, Inc. Westside is the real estate developer and land speculator that in July 2019 acquired the Park Hill Golf Course land as encumbered by the recorded perpetual conservation easement.
Purchased by Denver taxpayers in 1997, the conservation easement is intended forever to preserve the land for the conservation purposes explained below. Westside purchased the land banking on its ability to use its vast financial resources, its political connections, and its hired gun consultants and lobbyists somehow to break the conservation easement and allow the company to make huge profits on the land. Let there be no mistake—Westside did not purchase the land as Mr. Ho implies to address any perceived community inequities. It bought the land to maximize the company’s profits from developing the land.
Second, Mr. Ho incorrectly interprets the conservation easement in an effort to sell the idea that the easement always requires the land to be used as a golf course.
The starting point for interpreting the conservation easement is to determine its overarching conservation purposes. The conservation purposes are to maintain the land’s “scenic and open condition” and to preserve the land “for recreational use.” The conservation easement defines permitted recreational uses as including a golf course and other “unrelated recreational uses such as ball fields, tennis courts, etc.” All of these permitted uses are consistent with the easement’s conservation purposes.
Former Denver Wellington Webb sent an open letter to the Denver City Council, demanding a public vote on the future of the Park Hill Golf Course, a Denver treasure and rare open space clearly in the sights of a developer:
Good evening. First I would like to commend the Hancock administration, the Denver City Council and the voters for the passage of 2A and the dedication to our city parks. As you know, parks and open space have always been a core value for me my entire life, including my public career during which Colorado Open Space Council gave me a 100 percent rating as a Colorado state representative.
I believe it is important to briefly recap that commitment so you can fully understand why the issue at hand and the council’s actions are vital to the city’s future. The history of preserving, expanding and protecting Denver’s parks and open space included many hours of blood, sweat and tears. The outcome is that Denver has a vital park system, which unfortunately is shrinking at a drastic rate.
In 1987, after being elected Denver Auditor, I supported a community group that opposed the use of the City Park Pavilion for use as a general city office building. This followed a previous precedent set by Auditor William McNichols who took the position that parks are suppose to be used for parks and not city agencies. This position was also supported by Colorado District Court Judge Clifford Flowers, who ruled by injunction that the city could not locate general offices in city parks.
Once I became Mayor we bought land in Jefferson County to preserve the open space on the road to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, except for the three mini-mansions already on the land which would be preserved in perpetuity. We then moved to acquire approximately 75 acres of park land, a skate board park and roads and infrastructure behind Union Station. I would once again thank Councilwoman Kendra Black for initiating the recognition for me and former Denver City Councilwoman Joyce Foster on the development of the skate board park.
My administration also redeveloped the decommissioned Lowry Air Force base, including 800 acres of new park land. We followed with completing the negotiations with Forest City Enterprises on the amount of park and open space at Stapleton, which concluded with the addition of another 1,100 acres to the city’s park space.
The Park Hill Golf Course remains one of the largest expanses of open space in metro Denver…for now. Anthony Camera
In the pre-COVID-19 era, proponents of maintaining a conservation easement on the Park Hill Golf Club planned to gather enough signatures to land an initiative on the November 2020 ballot.
“Some things are really inviolable, and they should be. Like open space,” says Woody Garnsey, a leader of Save Open Space Denver, the group that’s fighting for the preservation of the conservation easement. Depending on whom you ask, that easement prevents the land from being used for anything other than a park or for anything other than a golf course.
Now, however, with signature-gathering next to impossible until both the state and city work out kinks in a possible electronic signature-gathering process, proponents of the initiative have found an ally in Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who is pushing for Denver City Council to refer the initiative to the November ballot.