Paved With Good Intentions
When postal carrier Tim Ramsey bought his home on Ford Street in north Golden nine years ago, he knew he was acquiring a special slice of local history. The house had once belonged to prominent developer Joseph Mayford Peery, and in 1971 Peery had given four acres directly south of the property to the city for a park in memory of his son Norman, who'd died in combat in Vietnam.
Most of the parcel donated by Peery had been turned into a groomed park, with picnic tables and a playground. But the north end of Norman D. Memorial Park had remained untouched, a narrow greenbelt separated from the rest by a gulch and a creek. By design or accident, the city had left a strip of urban wilderness outside Peery's back door.
Ramsey knew that city planners had talked for years about putting a road through the area, one that would link Ford Street to State Highway 93. But neighbors told him not to worry: Who ever heard of a new road bisecting a dedicated park? He was further reassured when he finally met Mayford Peery at an ice-cream social at the park three years ago.
"I ask him about the road," Ramsey recalls, "and he goes, 'What are you talking about? I never wanted a road there.' So I figured that if it ever did come up, I'd fight it. I just never thought I'd be fighting against Mayford Peery's son."
In recent weeks, the notion of a road through the park has evolved into a hotly debated proposal, packing city council meetings with irate neighbors -- including Ramsey, whose house stands less than twenty feet from the planned extension of Mesa Drive. Ironically, much of the impetus for the new road comes from the burgeoning traffic on Golden's once-isolated north side, and the impending arrival of a sixty-lot subdivision developed by Richard Peery, son of Mayford and brother of the late Norman.
Richard Peery acknowledges that the road would be "convenient" for both the new subdivision and his current home. At present, many north-side residents have to turn left onto the busy highway, then left again onto Washington Street, in order to reach downtown Golden. Although the road isn't essential to his development, which received approval from city council this month, Peery points out that a recent traffic study indicates the extension would help relieve other congestion problems in the area. "I don't honestly think there's another alternative available," he says.
Opponents of the road say that the city and Peery are subverting his father's intentions. "By putting this road in here, Dick Peery and his wife will be able to drive straight downtown," says Jim Smith, a real estate agent who lives in the area. "The heck with the fact that it goes through a park that was given by his father in memory of his brother."
This spring, city attorney Dave Williamson advised councilmembers that nothing in the elder Peery's conveyance of the property prevents the road from being built. "There would appear to be no legal impediment [to] using that portion of the property north of Tucker Gulch (which has never been used as a park) as a municipal street," he wrote.
"I stand by that point of view," says Steve Glueck, Golden's planning director. "This is totally a policy question."
But Smith has dug up old city documents that indicate the greenbelt area north of Tucker Gulch has always been considered part of the park. He's produced minutes from a 1971 council meeting referring to the gifted land and a thank-you note from the city to Joseph M. Peery "for your recent donation of greenbelt area to the City." The proposed road wasn't added to the city's master plan until 1985 and has only recently surfaced on planning maps.
"The fact that it's in the master plan doesn't make it legal or necessary or inevitable," Smith says. "They never held hearings about it, and they never checked the law to see if they could do that."
Smith says that he had his own encounter with the elder Peery three years ago while walking in the neighborhood, and that the park donor was "upset" about the prospect of the city building the road. Last month, Smith adds, he visited Peery at a local nursing home, where he now resides in a unit for Alzheimer's patients, and found that he was unaware of the renewed plans to build the road.
Smith's unauthorized visit outraged Peery family members. "There's nothing more infuriating than listening to these people talk about my father and referring to him as Mayford, as if they were close friends," says Richard Peery. "My dad doesn't remember my name."
The younger Peery and his wife, Tisha, say that Mayford Peery was supportive of their efforts. "Dad was never the kind of guy who'd put his money on black, and when it came up red ask, 'Can I have my bet back?'" he says. "He deeded that property to the city for their use, and he didn't restrict it. He wouldn't come back now and restrict it. He was a champion of property rights."
Peery's new subdivision will add open space to the west end of the park and link up to city bike paths, completing a loop on the north end; his family has contributed considerable land to public use over the years, from Norman D. Memorial Park to the climbing cliffs on North Table Mountain. "You would be hard-pressed to look some place in Golden and not find some contribution that has come from myself, my father or my family," he says.
He feels whipsawed by the approval process on his latest subdivision and another project that he's trying to launch at the city's north edge over objections of well-heeled rural neighbors. He notes that at a planning meeting in February, a faction turned out in force to demand that the Mesa Drive extension be built; now, at the eleventh hour, the opponents have become just as vociferous, delaying the decision yet again.
"The city blows whichever way five people in the audience can stand up and wave their arms," he says. "It's shocking, as a developer, to be in this position. Either way, you're a pariah."
Peery and other proponents of the road contend that it will have little impact on neighbors and that the undeveloped area north of the gulch is rarely used anyway. "We're not talking about a freeway," says Bob Nelson, the city councilman for the north-side ward. "It's a city street, with trees muffling the noise. I think it's needed."
But at this month's council meeting, neighbors turned out in force to protest the possible loss of a greenbelt rich in local wildlife, in an area that's rapidly being filled in with homes. "We see kids in there all the time," says Ramsey. "They chase the wild rabbits and go looking for snakes. We see deer, foxes, coyotes, occasionally an elk. We've seen a mountain lion out there. We've had a bear in our back yard."
Lynne Timpeiro, the only member of the city council to vote against Peery's development, thinks the opponents have legitimate concerns. "For the handful of people this road will assist, we're asking all the taxpayers to pay for this," she says. "We need to look at all the alternatives. I can't fathom putting a road that close to a park."
Ramsey is skeptical of claims that the proposed road next to his back door will relieve traffic. To him, the Mesa Drive extension is just one more step to a much bigger road that most of Golden is fighting: the C-470 beltway that threatens to split the town.
"Call me crazy, but any time you build a new road, guess what? Traffic comes, and traffic increases," he says. "If they put this in, it's going to be an exit ramp for 93. It would be easy to attach it to the beltway when it does come. Then I guess I'll put in a service station."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.