As one of Denver’s first real estate barons, George W. Clayton owned vast amounts of land when he died in the 1899 without any heirs. His estate was transferred to the George W. Clayton Trust (“the Trust”), and from 1899 to 1984 the City of Denver (“the City”) was the Trustee of the Trust. One of the many parcels of real estate was the farmland that later became the Park Hill Golf Course (“PHGC”) in 1930. The Trust still owns the beautiful Clayton Early Learning Campus on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard. In 1984, Clayton Early Learning replaced the City as Trustee of the Trust.
In 1989, the Trust and the City talked about the possibility of having the City purchase the PHGC land. These discussions resulted in the City including $2 million in a 1989 bond issue earmarked for the City to purchase the land. Nothing then happened until 1997 when, during the Wellington Webb administration and after a few years of further discussions between the Trust and the City about the Trust’s financial needs, the Trust and the City reached an agreement with the City whereby the Trust forever relinquished its development rights for the PHGC land. In this agreement, the City paid the Trust $2 million in exchange for the Trust granting a perpetual open space conservation easement to the City protecting the PHGC land foever from development. This easement was granted pursuant to the Colorado conservation easement statute.
A well-organized campaign by the developer that wants to plow under 155 acres of open space at the Park Hill Golf Course has several misleading narratives.
First, that this is a racial issue that aims to pit neighbor against neighbor.
Second, that no one outside of the Park Hill neighborhood cares about the last large tract of open space, despite the fact that voters citywide paid $2 million in 1998 to protect it from development forever. When voters vote and approve a bond contract, that is a contract between the city and the voters.
Last month, some Denver City Council members made misleading statements. One council member mentioned that that Park Hill Golf Course used to be less inviting to black golfers, which was true more than 50 years ago during the time that African Americans could not buy homes east of York Street.
But in the last 30 years, the course was very popular with black golfers, including the late Councilman Bill Roberts, former District Attorney Norm Early, Denver School Board member Ed Garner and many black resident golfers. It is misleading and unfortunate that anyone would create a narrative that this is a racial issue.
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.
On a recent, blazing-hot Friday, the Educare campus at Clayton Early Learning is abuzz with children playing in t he halls and swarming their teachers. These children, from months-old infants to five-year-olds, enroll in Clayton’s programs through the summer months, receiving research-backed care and evaluation funded by a historic philanthropic trust.
Nearly all of them come from families that live below the poverty line, but you wouldn’t know it looking down the clean, spacious hallway of classrooms in a facility that most public high schools would envy. Clayton’s Educare campus was built in 2006 as an addition to the century-old red-brick Historic Clayton Campus, a registered national landmark on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Colorado boulevards. “Often the families, when they come in here for the first time, go, ‘Wow. I never thought anybody valued me and my child to build us a place like this,’” says Charlotte Brantley, Clayton’s outgoing CEO and president.