Webb: Park Hill Golf Course land can and must be preserved under new conservation law

An editorial appearing in the Denver Post 11-13-2019 by Mayor Wellington Webb

The definition of the word conservation is “prevention of wasteful use of a resource,” and Colorado conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements that permanently limit uses of land in order to protect its conservation values for future generations. Until June of this year, Colorado conservation easements like the one that preserves the Park Hill Golf Course land open space could be terminated simply with the mutual agreement of the two parties that created them.

In 2017 the Denver city administration and the landowner, Clayton Trust, thought they would be able to terminate the conservation easement between themselves simply with a wink and a nod and city council approval. Had it not been for Arcis Golf, the company that operated the golf course crying foul, termination of that agreement would have flown under the radar, tucked into a measure for a vote by Denver City Council to approve the sale and development of that 155-acre, tree-filled green space.

Then, in July, Westside Investment Partners, Inc., a real estate development company, purchased the Park Hill Golf Course land for a price far in excess of the land’s appraised value, encumbered as the land was with a perpetual conservation easement and “open space-recreation zoning” in place. They speculated that they would be able to terminate the easement and change the open space-recreation zoning easily — but they were wrong.

This year the Colorado General Assembly took action with a dedicated group of conservation-minded nonprofit land trusts — members of the statewide coalition Keep It Colorado — to successfully strengthen the law governing the termination of conservation easements. On June 30, 2019, House Bill 1264 amended the Colorado conservation easement statute. HB 1264 establishes a higher standard for the entire state and puts the true intent of perpetual conservation easements into practice.

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Webb_ Park Hill Golf Course land can and must be preserved under new conservation law

 

 

City shells out $6 million to owners of Park Hill golf course

The legal battles are over, but the future for the 155-acre Denver property is as murky as ever.

The Denver skyline stands tall behind the Park Hill Golf Club. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

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From the Denverite

The City of Denver reached a settlement with the owners of a golf course in Park Hill this week, forking over $6 million to put an end to a complex series of legal battles.

The settlement ends all of pending litigation over the property but does not add any sort of clarity to the future of the 155 acres of land, which has embroiled the city, open space advocates and the various owners and operators of the golf course for years.

The agreement between the city and the property’s owner, Westside Investment Partners, will maintain a long-standing conservation easement on the land, which prohibits development on the property. The agreement gives Westside at least three years to finalize their plans for the property and start a public engagement process to vet other possible uses for the land. To develop the property, Westside would need to get City Council approval to remove the conservation easement and rezone the property.

According to city officials, the settlement was designed to allow the city to disentangle itself from the legal mess surrounding the golf course, while still giving Denverites some say in what happens on the private property.

“My priorities for the property and for the neighborhood have always been preserving open space and extensive community input. This agreement ensures we will have both,” Mayor Michael Hancock said via a press release Tuesday. “The easement will be preserved while the neighbors who are most impacted by this property will be able to guide its future use.”

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Park Hill golf course preservationists say they hold a trump card to stop development

Some want all the trees and grass to stay. Others want some trees and grass, but homes and businesses too. Courts might end up deciding.

David Sachs The Denverite 10-23-2019

Woody Garnsey leads a rally on the edge of Park Hill Golf Course demanding the space not be redeveloped. Oct. 22, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denverites resisting development on golf course land in Park Hill say a recent change to state law gives their cause a leg up over developers and the Hancock administration, who see the green swathe as a place for homes, businesses and parks.

The 155-acre chunk has been entangled in a legal and political jungle for about three years with four big players arguing over its future: the city government, former golf course operator Argus, the land’s original nonprofit owner Clayton Early Learning, and developer Westside Investment Partners.

Westside bought the land from Clayton in July for $24 million. While various lawsuits endure, the big question right now is whether Westside will be able to build stuff.

Save Open Space Denver, a group backed by former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, claims the company cannot. Members held a press conference Tuesday to amplify a state law signed in June that they say makes it harder to kill an agreement that protects the land from development. The agreement, known as a conservation easement, has been a part of the golf course’s deed for decades.

Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb speaks at a rally on the edge of Park Hill Golf Course demanding the space not be redeveloped. Oct. 22, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The law states that it cannot be terminated unless a court says the conditions on or around the golf course have changed to make its continued conservation impossible. Advocates say the language makes building illegal.

“I believe that Westside wasn’t aware of that (law), because if you take a look at when the deal was closed, it was closed right after the law went into effect,” Webb said.

Denver City Council members Debbie Ortega and Candi CdeBaca have asked the mayor’s office for its legal opinion in an official letter

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Park Hill Golf Club: Get ready for another Denver development debate Legal fights are over, but the development debate has just begun

Andy Cross, The Denver Post A small amount of remaining green grass gets mowed at the now defunct Park Hill Golf Club slated for development July 31, 2019.

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The city of Denver is ready to end the legal conflicts that have ensnared a valuable piece of property in the city’s northeast. But a proposed settlement may be just the beginning of a long and contentious political fight over the future of the Park Hill Golf Club.

The property — a rare 155-acre chunk of open space in an urbanizing city — has been through a head-spinning series of legal maneuvers over the last few years. It has been the prize for intense wrangling between its former nonprofit owner, the city government and a for-profit golf company, and the subject of a couple lawsuits.

The developer Westside Investment Partners bought the land this summer for $24 million, but it still was shadowed by legal disputes. On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Hancock’s office announced that a proposed agreement “would end litigation involving the property.”

The settlement will not allow any development on the land. Only a vote of City Council can do that. “We wanted a guarantee that Denver would have a right to provide input about the property’s future,” Hancock said in a news release.

The biggest legal questions include a lawsuit over an ongoing city flood-control project on the land. Early this year, the city took possession of about 35 acres of the course to complete the project. The parent of the former golf course operator, Arcis Golf, sued the city for damaging its business.

The new owner, Westside, took over that lawsuit. City officials wouldn’t say whether the settlement included a payment from the city to Westside, saying that the agreement wasn’t final yet.

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Park Hill Golf Club_ Get ready for another Denver development debate