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.
The PRAB approved the below recommendations to the DPR Executive Director Happy Haynes which include a recommendation that the city acquire the PHGC land for a park.
Approved by Parks and Recreation Advisory Board May13, 2020
We, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, recommend to the Executive Director the following for 2020 and 2021:
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, we recommend immediately and indefinitely:
An immediate increase in funding for rangers, maintenance, and sanitary facilities (e.g., hand-washing stations and restrooms) on DPR land including parks, trails and parkways. Evaluate and establish protocols and potential safety measures that consider any additional health and safety procedures (e.g., equipment cleaning, etc.).
Consideration of access to our municipal golf courses for pedestrian use of the paved golf cart trails.
Pursuit of the purchase of the Park Hill Golf Course open space at current market value using the unspent funds from 2019 158-2A tax collections ($26.565 million). We understand that this would be a departure from our earlier recommendations; we feel that the current economic conditions and our current cash-rich position enable us to acquire this land and we see it as a very important addition to our park system. Our intention is to recommend the purchase of this land and to recommend its preservation as zoned open space (OS). The land’s use, whether as a golf course and/or other recreational uses, should be determined through the regular DPR public outreach process after the land is acquired.
Achieve and implement a pilot cooperative relationship with DPS for the purpose of developing a significant amenity and/or property access consistent with Game Plan’s goal of ten-minute accessibility.
At least one city council member wants local legislators to refer the measure to the ballot to protect the public from collecting signatures during a pandemic.
The Denver skyline stands tall behind the Park Hill Golf Club. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
By David Sachs Denverite 5/11/2020
Activists who want to stop homes and businesses from being built on a defunct Park Hill golf course have pitched a ballot measure that would require Denverites to vote before development could occur on that site and other park-like lands in the city.
The Park Hill open space saga is long and complicated, but here’s the quick-and-dirty:
Westside Investment Partners, a development firm, owns the land. The company has plans to build places to live, work and play near the 40th and Colorado RTD station. While a $6 million settlement last year ensured a public process and approval from the Denver City Council prior to any development, some open space advocates say a 1997 conservation easement on the site prevents any development at all.
The ballot measure, filed by five activists including former state legislator and Denver mayoral candidate Penfield Tate III, would make Westside’s plans for the property moot.
Keep The Tranquility Of The Park Hill Golf Course Land
By Shanta Harrison
For the GPHN
I live 10 minutes by foot from the Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land. Although I’m not a golfer, I have enjoyed the grounds up close on many occasions while attending events at the clubhouse.
Having lived in Park Hill my entire life, the scenery as I drive down 35th Avenue from my home to Colorado Boulevard is familiar. It’s relaxing. It’s home. The vast landscape of trees and greenery creates a sense of tranquility and nostalgia that no longer exists in other areas of the neighborhood. I cannot think of a more miserable fate for that land than for it to be converted into yet another a sea of apartments and concrete.
More concrete? More traffic? We don’t need it. What we need is fresh air. We need naturally permeable surfaces. We need to be able to see the sky and the mountains and the trees. I know many neighbors who share these sentiments. Most of them won’t write letters like this or show up for meetings but, if you take the time to meet them where they are, they’ll tell you exactly how they feel. Talk of more density is highly undesirable as it often leads to gentrification. They love their neighborhood. They want to be able to live here, peacefully, for the foreseeable future.
The beauty of the Park Hill Golf Course is that, once you take away the golf, it’s already a gorgeous park. And it should stay that way.
Since we’ve been locked down, our daily respite has been found amidst its rolling green grass, wide paths, and budding trees. We’ve even observed a falcon defending its territory from bullying crows.
We understand that we don’t live across the street from a public park. We’re all too aware of the security guard making daily rounds. But it’s apparent that our use of the golf course as a park has been met with no objection from its owner. Locals freely jog the paths, push strollers, and walk their dogs.
Colorado Boulevard still screams on the western border, the Starbucks-anchored commercial development is plainly visible to the north, and nearby ever-present construction is impossible to miss.
But if you stand near the twittering duck pond and gaze at the snow-capped Rockies, it rejuvenates the spirit in a way that’s critically important during this crisis.
This precious open space will be developed if a judge agrees, and if our city council removes the conservation easement purchased with taxpayer dollars and rezones the land. But if the council holds firm, we can retain this increasingly rare and beautiful public asset.
If you have enjoyed using the golf course as a park, talk to your city council representative. Join the conversation and let your perspective be heard. Only then will the falcon be free to fly over Northeast Park Hill.
Thank you for the wonderful opinion piece “The Case for Parks,” that appeared in the April issue. What our leaders knew was true 100 years ago is even more true today: Parks are not just pretty ornamentation; they are the essential organs of nature tending to the health and well-being of our citizens, even as the city grows ever more crowded.
Today the Park Hill Golf Course land is under imminent threat. It is the last large urban open space with mature trees left in Denver, fortuitously located in the section of Denver with the greatest need for it. It is threatened, despite a conservation easement protecting it that was created to preserve this jewel, in whole.
What would take its place? Greenfield development that will necessitate outlandishly expensive infrastructure spending, paid for entirely by the future property buyers. Since this cost is buried into future property taxes from metro tax districts (controlled by the developer, not the city) rather than being reflected in the selling price of the residences, buyers would be lured into purchasing homes that might at first blush appear to be within budget (if you consider $550,000 starting prices affordable).
In reality, the costs may strain the finances of all but the upper-middle class or wealthier clientele. That is the formula for gentrification.
Meeting the need for truly affordable, mixed use and workforce housing would be better served if they were built on properties that already provide much of the infrastructure otherwise missing from open space — roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, power, etc. This is available just a few blocks away from the 40th and Colorado Boulevard commuter rail station, leaving in place the conservation easement and the Park Hill Golf Course land unmolested — to some day become the public park for which it is ideally suited.
If the city proceeds with a small area plan for Northeast Park Hill, it should center the study on the 40th and Colorado commuter rail station, encompassing land both east and west of Colorado Boulevard.