Open Spaced

After thirty years, Lakewood residents discover that a "future park site" belongs to someone else.

Since neighbors learned of Spensley's purchase last spring, they've leapt into action with petitions, proposals for conservation easements, and other strategies. The Audubon Society of Greater Denver has weighed in, declaring that the parcel has "considerable value" as a wildlife corridor. But even assuming a willing seller and an available pot of open-space funds -- two big ifs -- the price of the property keeps getting higher.

Todd says he originally intended to develop "some sort of senior empty-nester product" on the land, but he's also had discussions with residents about a possible open-space acquisition -- if they can put together the funds. His price for such a purchase is now many times what Spensley paid for the land less than a year ago.

"I'm not out to tread on somebody's rights or ruin anybody's quality of life," he says. "But I'm a businessperson, and I don't see half a dozen people coming up with a million bucks to acquire three acres of ground. If I do develop the property, I'm probably going to go for the maximum on it because I've had to hassle so much with it."

Park patrol:  Rita Bertolli.
Tony Gallagher
Park patrol: Rita Bertolli.

Todd has complained of minor vandalism on the property and vowed to put up a fence. Shortly after Christmas, he bulldozed an access road onto the land and was slapped with a stop-work order; Rock says he failed to obtain a required permit. (Todd denies that he needed a permit.) To date, he has not submitted a development application or provided soil studies or other information the city requires before he can build on the land.

"He has the right to proceed, and we have the responsibility to watch it very closely and get the best win-win we can," says city councilman Tom Booher.

A few weeks ago, the parcel was placed on the city's priority list for future open-space acquisition. That's no small accomplishment, given that the southwest portion of Lakewood already contains more than 40 percent of the city's open space, while other wards have almost none. But the city also tends to avoid pursuing properties for open space if the owner isn't eager to sell, and the ravine parcel may fall into that category.

"Our hope is that once he finds out the economics of developing his property, he may be interested in finding alternatives," says Don Ferega, president of the Green Mountain Beech Park Association, a local homeowners' group.

But not everyone in Green Mountain is pinning their hopes on what Todd might decide. Bertolli and others are contemplating legal action and have contacted a lawyer to look into the matter. "Unfortunately, the city is reluctant to get embroiled in this mess," says the group's attorney, Mark L. Davis. "But there is a problem here."

Bertolli has placed a large sign of her own ("Save Our Ravine") outside her parents' back door. Recently, Lakewood police officers visited her, asking questions about some surveyor stakes that had been pulled up from Todd's property. Bertolli, who is making a film about the ravine, denied having anything to do with the stakes' disappearance.

"I was like, 'Why are you downloading on me? Should I call my attorney?'" she recalls. "And they said, 'No, no, we're not downloading on you.' After you say the word 'attorney,' everything changes."

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