Longform

VILLAGE DIN

part 1 of 2
If it's true that, as one resident says, God has smiled down on the city of Greenwood Village, he must have turned a blind eye to the local government.

In this wealthy Denver suburb, a quiet community split between modern upscale tract homes and 1950s ranch homes with private horse pastures, members of the city council refer openly to their political foes as liars, puppets, stooges, foils and handmaidens. Grenade-launching by elected officials is a time-honored tradition here--and despite a recent election in which a new mayor and five new councilmembers rode into office on a wave of optimism, it shows no signs of fading away.

The political battles in the town the locals refer to simply as "Greenwood" have become semi-legendary in Colorado political circles. Controversial former mayor Freda Poundstone once sued a city councilman for libel--and was herself the target of a grand jury investigation into alleged corruption. (Neither the libel suit nor the grand jury probe proved fruitful.) Current councilwoman Carol Johnson, termed a "bitch" by councilman Jim Underhill (she in turn describes him as a "political assassin"), earned her own place in town history last year when she became one of the few elected officials in Colorado to be publicly "censured" by her colleagues--not once, but twice.

Five years after Poundstone gave up the mayor's job to pursue her career as a political lobbyist, conspiracy theories and hints of secret deals abound at the town hall on South Quebec Street. The current mayor says he's heard rumors that his office is bugged. At least two councilmembers keep secret dossiers on other councilmembers. One former elected official hints darkly of having information capable of ending careers.

Despite hopes that last November's general election would signal a truce in the town's ongoing political brawl--now largely a turf war between equally affluent and equally acerbic factions from the community's east and west sides--the contest and its aftermath proved even nastier than usual. Several council candidates (successful and unsuccessful) complained that the town's weekly newspaper skewed their voting records and refused to print letters from constituents who supported them. And the city manager turned in her resignation two weeks ago, an action sources say was forced upon her because of a "political vendetta."

The rancor in Greenwood Village certainly isn't due to money woes. Enriched by sales tax revenues collected along its lucrative Arapahoe Road commercial corridor, the community of 8,000 people ended 1993 with a budget surplus of $6 million. The council voted last year to repeal a controversial auto-use tax--largely because the city couldn't find anything to spend it on.

Insiders instead attribute the down-and-dirty political atmosphere to a combination of greed, a lust for power and a surplus of locals with egos far too large for their Range Rovers. "It's a bunch of high-powered people with definite opinions and the time on their hands to wallow in this minutiae," says former councilman Neil Macey. "That's the root of all problems in Greenwood Village."

Greenwood Village was originally conceived in 1950 as "a poor man's Cherry Hills," says former mayor Rollie Barnard. It was designed for people who might not have as much money as their Cherry Hills neighbors to the north, but who were after the same sense of community and feeling of small-town life. They wanted nice homes with plenty of room for horses, chickens and a pumpkin patch. And for a time, that's exactly what they had.

The landscape was radically altered in the mid-1960s when construction began on the gleaming office towers of the Denver Tech Center. The office complex and the interstate freeway adjoining it now serve as a literal and symbolic dividing line for the town. The Tech Center's urban flavor, along with an influx of new residents, reshaped the town's traditional rural character. Sprawling five-acre homesites still exist to the west of the freeway, in the older part of town. But those early residences are now outnumbered by newer, denser enclaves to the east. Junior League types are falling over themselves to build $400,000-plus homes in The Preserve, the city's newest development, near Belleview and University. And property values have skyrocketed to the point where Barnard's forty-year-old ranch house, which sits on five acres and cost about $10,000 new, was last appraised at $650,000.

"I think today, from the standpoint of affluence, there's probably as much affluence in some of Greenwood Village as in Cherry Hills," says Barnard.

The wealth and development has proven a double-edged sword. On the up side, money is available to buy up rapidly dwindling open space for use as parks. But the question of how and where to spend the cash has helped create a pro-growth/anti-development schism. The bad feelings are compounded, some believe, by a machine-style political process in which a few influential people pick and choose who will lead the city.