Denver voters may face dueling ballot measures in November that each would require citywide majority approval before city leaders could try to allow development on protected green space.
One measure would prohibit commercial and housing construction without voter approval on any parks and city-owned land protected by a conservation easement, including the 155-acre former Park Hill Golf Course, where development has been blocked since 1997.
A countermeasure that also has cleared initial review, put forward by the Westside Investment Partners developers who own the Park Hill land, would change the definition of “conservation easement” to make an exception for this property — and could apply to other protected open space.
State law governs conservation easements and lifting restrictions requires a state court order. A state judge first must determine conservationis impossible. Nevertheless, Denver officials have launched a planning process exploring mixed-use commercial and housing development on the Park Hill land.
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.
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.
Greater Park Hill Community Newsletter June 1 2020
From the Greater Park Hill Community Newsletter
Two Critical Words
As a lifelong Park Hill resident, a Greater Park Hill Community board member and an active member of Save Open Space Denver, I’m writing in response to Kenneth Ho’s guest opinion piece in the May edition regarding land speculator and real estate developer Westside Investment Partners’ development plans for the Park Hill Golf Course land. Mr. Ho is one of Westside’s owners and Westside’s point person trying to convince our community that Westside should be able to build a mini-city on the invaluable 155-acre open space.
Glaringly, Mr. Ho failed to use the two critical words – “conservation easement” – anywhere in his opinion piece. Mr. Ho, Westside, and the Hancock administration want to pretend that there are no legal impediments to their development plans.
Here are the undisputable facts: In 1997, Denver taxpayers paid $2 million for the perpetual open space conservation easement that forever protects the Park Hill Golf Course land from being developed. The “conservation purposes” of the conservation easement are to conserve the land “as open space” and “to maintain [the land’s] scenic and open condition and to preserve [the land] for recreational use.”
As you surely know, Save Open Space Denver is comprised of the residents of Northeast Park Hill, North Park Hill, South Park Hill, as well as concerned residents of many other Denver neighborhoods. Our members range in age from their twenties through their eighties, and every age in between. We are all of diverse backgrounds and cultures, reflecting the diversity for which Greater Park Hill is renowned. Many work hard at their jobs, some are retired; all have families, and love our community, just as you do. There is not a single paid member. We are all volunteers dedicated to our unified purpose of preserving 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. The reason the conservation easement protecting the Park Hill Golf Course land was created was to preserve this jewel, in whole, so that it wouldn’t continue to be broken up into small pieces until nothing remained.
Westside Investment Partners (note: they are investors first and foremost — they hire the developers, urban planners, lobbyists and public relations consultants as needed — many of whom perhaps have been in touch with you already) has one goal — to remove all obstacles to turning their $24 million plus investment into a profitable income stream for their investors. That is fine — that’s what commerce is all about. However, their interests do not always align with the best interests of the city or more critically, the community. This is one such case. We understand and completely agree that there is a critical need for mixed income, workforce and affordable housing in Northeast Park Hill and other amenities desired by the community. And had Westside chosen to spend $24 million buying up some of the many available vacant or underutilized industrial properties on either side of Colorado Boulevard, including in Skyland, Clayton, or Northeast Park Hill, we would have applauded their vision and commitment to improving the quality of life in our community. But no, they chose the one health-giving open space that has been the jewel of Park Hill for 90 years — the most obvious candidate for becoming a welcome addition to our parks system — targeting it to come under the blade of a bulldozer.
Save Open Space Denver is not anti-development. We are pro-smart development. Green field development 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 are lured into purchasing homes that might at first blush appear to be a bit of a stretch, but doable (if you consider $550,000 starting prices affordable), but in reality 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 Blvd. commuter rail station, leaving in place the conservation easement and Park Hill Golf Course land unmolested — to some day become the public park for which it is ideally suited.
Save Open Space Denver strenuously opposes the apparent plan of the Community Planning and Development Department to initiate a small area planning process for the Park Hill Golf Course land. The land is protected by the perpetual open space conservation easement that cannot be terminated without a court order determining that based on changes on or surrounding the land since July 11, 2019 it is impossible to fulfill the conservation purposes of the easement. These conservation purposes are to maintain the land “predominantly in a natural, scenic, or open condition…or for…recreational…or other use or condition consistent with the protection of open land, environmental quality or life-sustaining ecological diversity.” As long as the conservation easement is in place, it is a waste of city and citizen resources for CPD to do a small area planning process for the land.
Furthermore, if CPD does in the future initiate some kind of planning process for land that includes the Park Hill Golf Course land, the planning area would properly need to be a significantly larger geographic area east and west of the protected Park Hill Golf Course land likely centered on the 40th and Colorado Blvd. commuter rail station. Such a planning area would allow the city and the involved neighborhoods to address the full range of community needs and desires and identify the appropriate places for residential and commercial development.
Finally, the residents of Denver do not owe a land speculation company any special favors in order to break a covenant made 23 years ago just so the speculator can recover from bad judgment or hubris in picking a controversial location to construct its next investment property.