Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure prohibiting the following without the approval of voters in a regularly scheduled municipal or special election:
any commercial or residential development on land designated as a city park and land protected by a City-owned conservation easement except where consistent with park purposes, conservation easement purposes, or for cultural facilities, and
any partial or complete cancellation of a City-owned conservation easement unless for the purpose of creating a new park?
CITIZEN INITIATED ORDINANCE
Park and Open Space Preservation
The purpose of this ordinance is to submit to the registered electors of the City and County of Denver a proposed amendment to the Denver Revised Municipal Code concerning a prohibition (1) on any commercial or residential construction on land designated as a city park and land protected by a City-owned conservation easement and (2) on any partial or complete termination, release, extinguishment, or abandonment of a city-owned conservation easement without voter approval.
Be it enacted by the City and County of Denver:
Section 1.. The Denver Revised Municipal Code is amended by the addition of a new Section 193 under Chapter 39 (Parks and Recreation), Article VIII (Natural Areas) to read as follows:
CHAPTER 39 (Parks and Recreation), ARTICLE VIII (Natural Areas)
§39-193 – Park and Open Space Preservation
(1) Construction of any commercial or residential building on land designated as a city park or protected by a City-owned conservation easement and (2) any partial or complete termination, release, extinguishment, or abandonment of a City-owned conservation easement are prohibited without the approval of a majority of the registered electors voting in a regularly scheduled or special municipal election.
The prohibitions of this section 39-193 do not apply to: (1) construction of and/or improvements to buildings used for limited commercial purposes related to cultural facilities or for park or recreational purposes, and (2) construction of and/or improvements to infrastructure on land protected by a City-owned conservation easement for limited commercial purposes consistent with the conservation easement, and (3) conservation easement cancellation related to the City’s acquisition of the protected land for designated park purposes.
If any section, paragraph, clause or other portion of this ordinance is held to be invalid or unenforceable for any reason, the validity of the remaining portions of this ordinance shall not be affected.
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.
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.”
Open Space advocates claim new state law makes Park Hill Golf Course land off- limits to commercial, residential development.
Please see the following letter to City Council which includes a statement by Jessica E. Jay. Jessica E Jay has been practicing land conservation law for 21 years. She represents landowners and easement holders including statewide, regional and local land trusts.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE
The operator of the now-closed Park Hill Golf Club this week sued the City of Denver, asking a court to prevent construction work affecting four holes until an agreement is in place regarding how the operator will be compensated for expenses related to the course closing.
Texas-based golf course operator Arcis Golf, whose lease on the 155-acre course runs through 2023 and makes the company responsible for maintaining the property, claims in the lawsuit that it doesn’t currently have such an agreement with either the city or Clayton Early Learning, the golf course owner.
The city’s Department of Public Works has fenced off around 35 acres of the golf course on the northern end of the course — about four holes — and is building a flood mitigation holding area, according to the lawsuit. The course closed at the end of 2018 because of the work.
“Neither the city nor Clayton has given us any indication of how our costs for the next few years will be reimbursed while the course is closed,” said Scott Siddons, Arcis’ general counsel. “The only way to force the issue is to file a reverse condemnation lawsuit.”