In a major twist, the developer that owns the Park Hill Golf Course is funding a ballot initiative that would exempt the property from the provisions of another ballot initiative, one almost identical in language, that open space advocates are currently promoting to prevent development on the site.
"If ours passed and theirs passed, nothing would change," says Erin McCann, a spokesperson for Westside Investment Partners, which bought the 155-acre Park Hill Golf Course property two years ago for $24 million and hopes to construct a mixed-use development on it.
The proposal that Westside is funding seeks to neutralize the initiative being promoted by Save Open Space Denver, a group of residents who oppose any development of the now-defunct golf course. On June 2, Save Open Space Denver submitted petition signatures to put its initiative on the November 2021 ballot; if passed, the SOS initiative would require a citywide vote before the city could lift a conservation easement, like the one the city adopted for the Park Hill Golf Course in 1997.
Save Open Space Denver, which counts former state legislator and mayoral candidate Penfield Tate and former mayor Wellington Webb among its members, believes the conservation easement only requires that the property be preserved as open space — and that under that definition, the property can become a city park, which the group wants, without the easement being lifted.
But lawyers for the City of Denver and Westside, which is partnering with the Holleran Group on the project, claim that the conservation easement requires that the land be used primarily as an eighteen-hole golf course; in order for the property to be used for anything else, even a city park, they say that the easement would need to be lifted by Denver City Council, as is allowed under current law. The developer would rather argue its case before council than have the easement's removal be decided by voters, which is why it's now doubling down by paying for this effort.
The proposed initiative funded by Westside, which still needs to be approved by a Denver city attorney and the Denver Elections Division before signatures can be gathered to put it on the ballot, would redefine what is and isn't a conservation easement under Denver law. The conservation easement contract for the Park Hill Golf Course would remain in place if the initiative passed, but it would not fit the new ordinance's definition of a conservation easement — which means that lifting the current easement would still require a vote of Denver City Council rather than a vote of the people...even if both initiatives pass.
"Ours is status quo, basically. If our initiative passes, nothing happens," says McCann, who claims that the SOS Denver initiative would "take away the voice of the community," since all the voters in Denver, rather than just the neighbors of the property, would be deciding what to do with the land.
While the turf war continues, the Department of Community Planning and Development has been leading a visioning process around what should happen to the Park Hill Golf Course property. CPD expects to get the recommendations from the steering committee involved in that process sometime in August.
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