Denver Development

City of Denver Releases Vision for Park Hill Golf Course

The former Park Hill Golf Course was the focus of two measures on the November Denver ballot.
The former Park Hill Golf Course was the focus of two measures on the November Denver ballot. Amy Harris
A month after voters placed a major roadblock in front of possible development of the Park Hill Golf Course, the City of Denver has released a vision for the property, which is owned by Westside Investment Partners.

"It’s gratifying to know that Park Hill residents and participants in this process prioritized substantial parks and open space as a common vision element for this site. This community validation reinforces the importance of quality parks and open space as part of the reimagining of this site, which has been a foundation of this process since the beginning," says Happy Haynes, executive director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, in a statement accompanying the vision's release. "We look forward to participating with fellow city agencies and the community in the next phase of the process to advance this vision."

Aside from asking for parks and open space, Park Hill residents — whose perspectives were pulled together "through surveys, on comment forms, at public workshops and events, in small groups and conversations with Community Navigators, and through a Community Steering Committee that met monthly," according to the city — also want to see affordable housing, a grocery store, space for local businesses, and an expanded tree canopy on the property.

"We spoke with hundreds of people before the visioning process began," says Kenneth Ho of Westside. "We believe the report reflects the broad feedback the city received." Westside has already committed to preserving at least sixty acres of open space on the 155-acre property, where it wants to construct a mixed-use development.

There's currently a conservation easement on the Park Hill Golf Course property that prevents any development. Until this past election, Westside had expected that Denver City Council would eventually vote to lift the easement. However, voters approved an initiative placed on the ballot by the advocacy organization Save Open Space Denver — which wants to block development on the golf course in the hope that it eventually becomes a municipal park — that requires a citywide vote in order to lift the easement. At the same time, voters rejected a defensive ballot measure pushed by Westside that would have exempted the golf course property from the provisions of the Save Open Space Denver initiative if it passed.

"It unfortunately dilutes the voice of a historically marginalized and diverse local community," says Ho of the Save Open Space Denver requirement. "We understand that it’s another step in the process, and we look forward to getting into the details of the master plan with the city and community going forward."

But Save Open Space Denver, which counts former mayor Wellington Webb and former state legislator and mayoral candidate Penfield Tate among its members, is already crying foul over the city's vision for the property, saying that Denver has only been interested in producing a vision that favors the developer. "The city’s bias toward development just gets disturbing," says Tate. "It’s the will of the people. They’ve spoken now."

There's still an ongoing debate between Save Open Space Denver on one side and the City of Denver and Westside on the other side over what's permitted under the current conservation easement. Save Open Space Denver argues that it allows for general open space uses of the property, which would give the city a pathway for turning the golf course into a park without lifting the easement. But the Denver City Attorney's Office and Westside interpret the easement as requiring that the primary use of the land be for an eighteen-hole golf course. The Park Hill Golf Course has been defunct for years.

In 2022, the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development will work on crafting an area plan for the property. Eventually, Denver City Council will have a chance to vote on this plan — and whether to refer a measure to the ballot that could lift the easement and allow development to move forward.
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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.