Denver Development

Denver Could Be Headed to Citywide Vote on Park Hill Golf Course Development

The Park Hill Golf Course could become the fourth-largest regional park in Denver.
The Park Hill Golf Course could become the fourth-largest regional park in Denver. Amy Harris
Following a December 5 vote by Denver City Council, a citywide referendum on the potential development of the hotly contested Park Hill Golf Course property looks increasingly likely.

"Any 155-acre land should have the chance to consider the blend of housing, business and parks," said council president Jamie Torres at the December 5 meeting. "I get the deep sense that compromise was achieved."

After a lengthy public hearing, councilmembers voted ten to three in favor of a Small Area Plan put forward by the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development that calls for a mixed-use development on the property. Paul Kashmann, Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca opposed the plan.

"I am personally sick and tired of watching my community be bamboozled because they do not have the time, the tools, the legal resources to understand this level of a legal and real estate agreement," CdeBaca said.

It isn't a done deal; council will still have to consider rezoning the property and next month will vote on whether to refer a measure to the ballot that, if approved by voters, would lift a conservation easement on it. However, the December 5 vote makes it clear that a strong majority of councilmembers approve of development of the land — or, at the very least, are willing to let voters decide whether the land should be developed.

Westside Investment Partners, the development firm that owns the land, wants to transform the defunct golf course into a development that features market-rate and affordable housing, retail outlets such as a grocery store, and 100 acres of open space. Westside bought the property from the Clayton Trust for $24 million in 2019; the golf course had ceased operations the year before.

Standing in the way of Westside's plans has been a conservation easement put on the property in 1997, which prevents the development of the land. Initially, Westside just needed Denver City Council to lift the easement and for a judge to sign off on that action. Those plans quickly became complicated, however.

After the purchase, a handful of residents, including former mayor Wellington Webb and former state legislator Penfield Tate, banded together in a group called Save Open Space Denver to oppose any development on the property; they wanted the Park Hill Golf Course to become a municipal park.

With the city and Westside in one corner and Save Open Space Denver in another, the two sides clashed over what was actually allowed by the conservation easement. Westside and the Denver City Attorney's Office said the easement called for the land's primary use as a golf course, so even creating a park would require a lifting of the easement. SOS Denver claimed that the conservation easement allowed for other types of open-space uses, including a park.

To ensure that voters had a say, SOS Denver pushed a measure onto the November 2021 ballot to require a citywide referendum in order to lift any conservation easement that involves the city — though the Park Hill Golf Course happens to be the only conservation easement in which the City of Denver is a party. To counter that action, Westside pushed its own proposal that would have exempted the SOS Denver measure from applying to the conservation easement on the Park Hill Golf Course.

Voters approved the SOS Denver proposal and rejected the Westside-funded measure in a setback for the developer.

The developer's proposal has transformed since the November 2021 election. Rather than 60 acres of open space, it now calls for 100 acres of open space, with 95 of those acres turned into a contiguous regional park. Twenty-five acres are already covered by a floodwater detention area easement, but those can be landscaped and made accessible to the park with city investment, as long as there are no structures built there.

Yes for Parks and Open Space, the latest iteration of Save Open Space Denver, still opposes the Westside proposal, refusing to give an inch to the developer. And Tate, who's now a candidate for a Denver City Council at-large seat, made it clear that neither he nor any of his fellow advocates want to keep the land as a golf course when he spoke at the December 5 council meeting.

"Our point is that the purpose of the conservation easement is to preserve it as open space and for recreational purposes," Tate said.

Dozens of others talked about the plan at the meeting; most were in favor. But many other people had written to council; the majority of those were opposed to the plan.

"I'm in favor of the Small Area Plan for the golf course and the rezoning. My primary reason is affordable housing. We desperately need this in our city," said Robert Duncan, an attorney who has lived in Park Hill since 1982.

Before the vote, Brothers Redevelopment and Volunteers of America announced they'd be teaming up to build and own over 300 affordable rental units on the property if voters approve lifting the easement.

"There’s an acute affordable-housing shortage in northeast Denver, and opportunities to build hundreds of affordable units, particularly our low- and fixed-income neighbors in one location, are becoming exceedingly rare," says Jeff Martinez, president of Brothers Redevelopment.

Council is slated to vote on whether to send lifting the easement to the April municipal ballot on January 23.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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