Trading Spaces

Lakewood voters are stuck between a ditch and Red Rocks in an upcoming special election.

Ken Parks, a Littleton public-relations professional retained by Carma, points out that the city approached the developer about the deal, not the other way around. Since Carma's proposed development already designated more open space than city planners require, the land exchange seemed like the best way to acquire the corridor linking the parks. "The vast majority of the community wants that bridge," Parks says.

But some area residents would rather keep the park intact. "To give away land that's been given to the citizens is morally bankrupt," says Stephen Sumner, one of Scott's neighbors. Bertolli says that some development is already slated for other segments of the so-called wildlife corridor, including a ball field and a school. The real wildlife connection, she contends, is Iron Spring Park itself. And she questions the "precedent" of transferring public land to a private developer that was clearly deeded as a park by the donors a generation ago; at least two other proposed swaps of park land are currently under consideration in Lakewood.

"It's like the Wild West here," she sighs. "There's no reason to have a government if they're just going to do whatever they want with public land. If we can stop this swap, we save other parks -- because they know we won't stand for this."

Rita Bertolli is poised for a testy special election.
John Johnston
Rita Bertolli is poised for a testy special election.

Parks says Carma could build as many as 100 homes on the Iron Spring parcel. If voters don't approve the trade, the developer will build instead in the gulch area -- leading Bertolli to ask whether such a vital "wildlife corridor" would ever have been slated for development in the first place. She's incensed that public officials are endorsing the "Vote for Rooney Open Space" campaign when the campaign's website and fliers don't even acknowledge that a trade of public land is involved.

"They have the mayor's mug shot on their literature," she says. "I went to the last council meeting and said it was a shame that our city officials have become poster children for a multibillion-dollar Canadian development company, which is getting a parcel worth as much as $50 million for something that's worth far less."

The debate hit a flashpoint last week, shortly after Carma broke ground on the initial phase of its Solterra project, involving forty acres, ninety homesites in the $400,000 to $1 million range, and a community center. Bertolli fired off a press release claiming that the developer "went ahead and bulldozed the park." Parks denies this, saying that Carma is awaiting the outcome of the election before taking any action on the park parcel at issue. City Engineer Jay Hutchison says some of the grading involves a planned extension of Indiana Street through the park that's been in the works for some time.

But Bertolli insists that the grading south of the parkway extends farther than it should. "They're just banking on the fact we don't have the time and the money to go to court," she fumes.

Special elections are notorious for small turnouts, particularly when held around the holidays. "It's going to be a tiny turnout," Anderson predicts, "and that's unfortunate. Democracy works best when lots of people are involved."

The two sides are engaged in a battle of fliers at the moment. Bertolli is also involved in what she calls "opposition radio," a podcasting venture called Radio Free Lakewood that involves live broadcasts and commentary from city council meetings and sending citizens armed with digital recorders to confront developers at public hearings.

"The other side has a lot more money," she says, "but I think our argument is sound. There's no way this is an equal trade."

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