"Residents of this community are happy to partner with Westside on this initiative, to protect our voice and ensure that the surrounding neighborhood leads this conversation moving forward. We are one Park Hill, and we should all be treated equitably and accordingly. This is our chance to gain that equity," says Samie Burnett, a supporter of the Empower Northeast Denver campaign, which submitted its initiative petition signatures to the Denver Elections Division on July 2.
According to June finance reports, Westside paid $268,305 on signature-gathering for the campaign, which is designed to counter the Yes for Parks and Open Space initiative pushed by Save Open Space Denver that's already on the November 2 ballot, and calls for a citywide vote before any conservation easement can be lifted. The Empower Northeast Denver initiative would nullify that first initiative.
Westside and city lawyers interpret the Park Hill Golf Course conservation easement, which has been in place since 1997, as only allowing for the primary use of the property as an 18-hole golf course. But Save Open Space Denver, which counts former Mayor Wellington Webb and former state legislator Penfield Tate as members, interprets the conservation easement as allowing for general open space, which would permit a municipal park; the group would like to see the easement remain and a city park put on the property.
The Yes for Parks and Open Space initiative and the Empower Northeast Denver proposal have nearly identical language. However, the Empower Northeast Denver initiative defines "conservation easement" in a way that excludes the conservation easement on the Park Hill Golf Course from being subject to a citywide vote. If voters approve both initiatives in November, then the status quo would remain in place and Denver City Council could lift the Park Hill Golf Course conservation easement, as long as a district court judge grants it the right to do so.
Westside Investment Partners wants to build a mixed-use development on the 155-acre property, which the company purchased from the Clayton Trust in 2019 for $24 million; it has promised to maintain at least 60 acres of the land as open space.
"Northeast Park Hill residents simply want to create the same growth and business opportunities already afforded to other areas of Greater Park Hill and build a brighter future for the community," Burnett explains.
Earlier this year, the City of Denver set up a steering committee for a "visioning process" to determine what should be done with the Park Hill Golf Course. That committee is slated to finalize its recommendations by the end of summer or early fall.
But on June 23, Save Open Space Denver filed a lawsuit against the City of Denver in Denver District Court, asking a judge to rule that the city has violated Colorado law by spending taxpayer-funded government resources on a "planning and development process for land subject to a conservation easement, prior to a court" terminating that easement.
The Denver Elections Division has not yet determined whether Empower Northeast Denver has collected enough valid signatures to land the Westside-funded initiative on the November ballot.
Save Open Space Denver has spent $51,721 on its initiative campaign. The Empower Northeast Denver petition language just got the green light from the Denver Elections Division on June 8 and had a much shorter timeframe for its signature-gathering, which helps explain why Westfield spent five times as much.