Denver Government

Update: Park Hill Golf Course Development Plan Passes Committee

The Park Hill Golf Course remains a hot-button issue in Denver.
The Park Hill Golf Course remains a hot-button issue in Denver. Anthony Camera
On November 8, Denver City Council's Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted 5-2 to send the proposal for developing the Park Hill Golf Course on to the full council for consideration. The final vote by council will be December 5. Councilmembers Paul Kashmann and Candi CdeBaca were the "no" votes.

Read the original story posted at 6 a.m. today below:


While this is a monumental day for American politics, a Denver City Council committee will take its first vote on a very important local issue: what to do with the Park Hill Golf Course.

The future of this 155-acre property has been one of the hot-button issues in Denver politics over the past several years. There have been wars of words and competing ballot measures, all culminating in this first vote of the council's Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will decide whether to give the green light to a mixed-use development plan for the golf course.

Origins of conflict

Throughout the Park Hill Golf Course's lengthy history as a functioning golf facility, the City of Denver eyed the property for potential purchase from the Clayton Trust. But with a price that was out of reach, the city, under the leadership of Mayor Wellington Webb, opted in 1997 to instead place a conservation easement on the property to ensure its continuation as a working golf course.

In operation since the 1930s, the golf course saw its last golfers tee off in 2018. It then shuttered while the City of Denver began traversing through the property during its Platte to Park Hill stormwater detention project.

In 2019, Westside Investment Partners, the developer also overseeing the Loretto Heights campus redevelopment, purchased the Park Hill Golf Course for $24 million.

To pursue any development on the property, Westside needed a ruling from a judge and a vote by Denver City Council to lift the conservation easement, which prohibited development. But the situation quickly became complicated.

Opponents of development

A handful of residents of Park Hill, as well as Webb and former state legislator Penfield Tate, came together in opposition to any development on the Park Hill Golf Course and formed Save Open Space Denver. The group took a no-compromise position: Not a single foot of the property should be paved over. Instead, Save Open Space Denver pushed for the golf course to be turned into a municipal park. This position clashed with Westside's vision: The development company wanted to transform the property into a mixed-use development with affordable-housing components, a grocery store and open space.

The two sides — Westside and the City of Denver versus Save Open Space Denver — began to spar over what was actually allowed by the conservation easement. Westside and the City Attorney's Office said the conservation easement only allowed a primary use as a golf course, so even turning the land into a park would require a lifting of the easement. On the other hand, Save Open Space Denver claimed that the conservation easement allowed for other types of open-space uses, so the land could be turned into a park without lifting it.

Competing ballot measures

Save Open Space Denver landed a measure on the November 2021 ballot that would require a citywide vote in order to lift any conservation easement. But there happens to be only one conservation easement in Denver: on the Park Hill Golf Course.

Westside pushed its own ballot proposal that, if passed, would have exempted the Save Open Space Denver measure from applying to the Park Hill Golf Course conservation easement.

In November 2021, voters passed the SOS Denver measure and rejected the Westside-funded measure. That sent Westside back to the drawing board, and guaranteed that the voters of Denver have a voice in the ultimate use of the Park Hill Golf Course.

Proposal

Over the past year, the Westside plan has morphed. The latest proposal still calls for a mix of residential, retail and open space on the property, and 25 percent of the housing would be affordable. But it also earmarks 100 acres as open space — up from the pre-November 2021 election proposal of 60 acres — including 95 acres that would be turned into a contiguous regional park. Of those 95 acres, 25 are covered by a floodwater detention area easement, part of the Platte to Park Hill stormwater detention project. However, the detention area itself is less than twenty acres, according to Kenneth Ho, the lead developer from Westside working on the project, and all of that area can be landscaped and made accessible to the park with city investment, as long as there are no structures built on it.

But Yes for Parks and Open Space, the new name for Save Open Space Denver, still rejects the proposal. Instead, the group wants to wait for the new mayor and councilmembers who will take office in July 2023 before anything else is decided regarding the Park Hill Golf Course.

"There's no rush to get this done now. Why don't you let the next administration and city council deal with this?" Tate asks.

Still, Westside and the city are moving ahead with the proposal.

Next steps

Today, November 8, the Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will vote on a Small Area Plan for the Park Hill Golf Course, which contains the Westside proposal. If LUTI approves the plan, then it will go before the full council for first reading on November 28 and a final hearing and vote on December 5.

If the plan passes that hurdle, on December 13 LUTI will consider a rezoning request for the property, in addition to referring a proposal to the ballot for voters to lift the conservation easement that rests on the golf course. Denver City Council would have a hearing and final vote on those two items on January 23.

If council approves both, then a proposal to lift the conservation easement resting on the Park Hill Golf Course would go to voters in April 2023, at the same time they're choosing a new mayor and council representatives.
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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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