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.
Denver Should Revive Its Dedication to City Beautiful
By Maria Flora and Georgia Garnsey
For the GPHN
When Denver’s urban parks and parkways were designed during the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s, their purpose was to “provide beauty, to promote mingling of people from all socio-economic backgrounds, and to endorse the principle of equality by allowing all citizens access to free open space.”
That was how former Denver Parks and Recreation managers Don and Carolyn Etter described the motivation in their book City of Parks: The Preservation of Denver’s Park and Parkway System. The authors also note that parks were historically considered a “physical embodiment” of equality of access to space and to nature and to mark “the city as a place of quality.”
Parks continue to serve this important purpose, along with additional purposes that have become more critical today than ever before. With their trees and vegetation, parks act as the lungs of the city, reducing pollution as they cool the air and combatting the overheating caused by the devastating phenomenon of climate change.
Denver’s Climate Adaptation Plan confirms what we can all feel – our city is getting hotter. The “heat island effect” (a term referring to the heat that builds up in concretized urban areas) is increasingly pronounced in Denver, especially as open space is developed into impervious surfaces such as those planned for Loretto Heights and Elitch Gardens. The new development at 9th and Colorado Boulevard is another example of increasing impervious surfaces, with concrete and asphalt and an absence of vegetation and tree canopies that could provide critical shade and cooling for the city.
The heat island effect in Denver presents increasing health and safety risks. It has the potential to result in power outages due to overtaxed cooling systems, as well as create higher levels of air pollution and ground level ozone concentrations. The outcome is adverse health effects, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing and sore or scratchy throat and worse.
The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) assigns a “heat vulnerability score” to Denver neighborhoods, which is a composite of built environment, demographics and human health. Neighborhoods in Northeast Park Hill, Clayton, Cole, Elyria/Swansea and Globeville are among the most vulnerable in the city to this environmental hazard. These neighborhoods also have high percentages of areas not under a tree canopy. For example, nearly 85 percent of the west part of Northeast Park Hill is not under a tree canopy.
In a March 2017 report, the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation recognizes that the northern (and western) neighborhoods of Denver have higher concentrations of ethnic and racial diversity, lack of car access, lowest incomes, and highest levels of obesity and chronic disease. They also have among the highest park and recreation facility demand in the city.
There are more reasons to value and preserve and expand open space throughout Denver, such as the fact that parks keep our neighborhoods and communities fit and healthy. Parks also promote mental, emotional, and social health.
There is no question that parks provide one of our best tools for mitigating the effects of climate change. “Urban parks cool and clean the air, improve and modify local wind circulations, and better regulate precipitation patterns. Well-vegetated parks mitigate the impact of the urban heat island and minimize local climate change,” according to the City Parks Forum.
All of Denver would reap the benefits of the 155 acres of green and tree-filled open space on the Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land, a site that is readily accessible to downtown Denverites and residents throughout the city by light rail. (The PHGC land is in the direct vicinity of the 40th and Colorado light rail station.)
The restoration of Denver as a “city within a park” is within reach if we act now. Maintaining the open space and creating a park on the PHGC land would be a huge step toward this goal. Denver does not need to sacrifice more of its precious green space to development. There are large areas of underutilized lands in the northeast section of the city, very near the PHGC site, that are much better candidates to convert to housing and other amenities the community may desire.
Leave the land for the public to enjoy. Combat climate change. Fight for the health and well-being of our most vulnerable populations. And let Denver breathe.
Maria Flora and Georgia Garnsey serve on the Health and Environment Subcommittee for SOS Denver, the organization that is working to preserve the conservation easement on the land at Park Hill Golf Course.