It’s an economic boondoggle — an ecological disaster to boot. Oh, did we mention the unaffordable housing?
In 2021, Denver voters overwhelmingly rebuked Mayor Michael Hancock and the City Council, telling it 2 to 1 that if the city wanted to lift an easement on the Park Hill Golf Course, the voters would have to OK it. Now the time has come for Denverites to make good on that vote. On April 4, voters will be asked whether the easement should be lifted. We urge you to vote no on Referred Question 20.
In 2021, the IJN editorial board spoke extensively with both sides of the issue — with Westside, the development firm that purchased Park Hill Golf Course, as well as with activists set on preserving open space. Westside made a strong argument, but ultimately we came down on the side of preservation. This, for many compelling reasons.
First and foremost, green space is Denver has become a rarity and there is no evidence that the mayor the City Council cares. So Park Hill Golf Course has become a totem of what Denver once was, Speer’s City Beautiful, and a lifeline, a last hope of keeping some semblance of green-concrete balance in a city that has become overdeveloped, overfilled with luxury tower blocks.
Greenery should not be the luxury of the wealthy, available only to those who can afford country club membership, weekend hiking trips or single family homes with large backyards.
Westside says it will allocate a good portion of the land to affordable housing. It also says it will dedicate 100 acres of land to a park. Both are admirable, if they come to pass, and we commend Westside for boosting its commitment in 2021 of 60 acres to 100.
But: There is no fixed requirement for Westside to do this once it acquires the land. In fact, its own campaign materials boast of the firm “donating” the land.
Another part of the “yes” campaign is to imply that Park Hill would cease being a food desert as Westside will bring a grocery retailer to the project. Wrong. Westside will only offer a space to a grocery retailer. There is no guarantee that a retailer will move into the space and Westside will not hold the space indefinitely until a grocery store retailer is secured.
There is also no clarity as to who will be financially responsible for the maintenance of the 100-acre park.
Will it be Westside? More likely it will fall on the residents who will be required to pay a fee either through an HOA, increased property taxes or otherwise.
Lack of greenery has serious environmental consequences. Urban heat islands have become commonplace as density in the form of concrete buildings explodes, leaving little greenery to absorb heat. It’s no coincidence that Denver’s summer temperatures have been rising — a consequence of which is more consumers requiring air conditioning, which not only raises living costs but has an environmental impact of its own.
Denver must not sacrifice one of its last large green spaces. There need not be a choice between open space and affordable housing. There are some smarter, smaller developments.
• One is a series of row homes on Colorado Blvd. and First Ave.
• Another is a system of duplexes on 8th Avenue and Jersey.
• Lining East Colfax are many small multi-unit developments built in the mid-20th century. Rezoning large lots to allow for accessory dwellings or these small multi-units could go a long way to providing affordable housing and increasing home ownership.
Not to mention, rents in Denver are finally going down as migration to the state has slowed, in large part due to its unaffordability. Might lots of empty apartments be soon available that can be repurposed for affordable housing, rather than building on more empty lots?
There is another aspect to this whole Westside-City Council deal that reeks of corrupt municipal politics.
City Council — Candi CDeBaca and Paul Kashmann aside — is doing everything it can to make this redevelopment happen, including rezoning the area to include for high rises, and creating five metro districts to collect property tax on the land.
That the majority of Park Hill residents don’t want full development of the land doesn’t matter to City Council. It has instead presented those who do want Westside’s project as the sole voice of the neighborhood, even though some voices are facilitated by Westside. Save Open Space, one of the main opposition groups, has been excluded from the Park Hill Golf Course Area Steering Committee because it opposes lifting the easement. Yes, you read that correctly. The opposition is excluded because it does not support the plan. There’s a whiff of autocracy to it all. Only groups open to lifting the easement — i.e., those who will vote “yes” on April 4 — are permitted to participate in the vision?
Much like the Community Benefit Agreement that Westside came to earlier this year with Park Hill residents, those who opposed the plan are excluded from having a say.
“Given Save Open Space’s stated disagreement with the prevailing vision and the visioning process to this point, we believe that further participation by Save Open Space as part of the committee would only result in further discord within the community and would not be a valuable use of the committee’s or your organization’s time,” Parks and Recreation head Happy Haynes and Community Planning and Development head Laura Aldrete wrote in a note to Save Open Space.
Chutzpah! If anything, Parks & Recreation should be under an obligation to include a group committed to the law as it currently stands, in maintaining the easement. It should be incumbent on those seeking to change the status to prove their case. A judge has yet to rule on whether lifting the easement is even legal.
The opposition does have plans for this land. Most want to see it remain a green space, with the terms of the easement amended to include a variety of recreational spaces, from native grasslands to bike paths to ball fields. Essential to this plan is that the land become the property of the city — currently, Denver only owns the development rights to the property, but not the land itself. The Denver Parks & Recreation Advisory Board has already voted to buy the land. At that point, amending — not lifting, but amending — the easement becomes a less contentious solution, as the commitment to green space is in place.
How much will the land cost? Westside acquired this land — remember, the city of Denver, that is, Denver taxpayers, owned the developments rights to it — for a bargain basement price of $154,838. A Denver Post analysis estimates the real, market price per acre at $3.5 million!
For Westside, knowing that municipal government was on its side and committed to ramming through this project, it was a great deal. Denver’s last largest parcel of land for peanuts with massive development opportunity!
Not to mention, Park Hill Golf Course falls into an “opportunity zone,” meaning that Westside is not liable for federal income tax on any profits from its development on this land.
The City of Denver took Denver taxpayers for a ride on this sale, for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver. Why the city wouldn’t look to maximize its profits from this sale befuddles us — and certainly the failure to do so doesn’t deserve to be rewarded.
Our first wish is to see this land preserved as green space (a park, not a golf course!), but, at minimum, the easement must stay until the city can ensure a better deal for taxpayers, one that includes strict commitments to all of Denver taxpayers, not only those party to the CBA, to some of what Westside is promising, delivering to Denver true value on a much-prized asset.
That will only be achieved by including all parties around the table, without foregone conclusions on the part of city government.
Vote no on 2O.
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