Ditching the Deal in Lakewood

The mayor was all for it. The city council blessed it twice with unanimous approval. The developer was on board, and so was a group of local residents who stood to benefit from the deal.

But somebody forgot to ask the citizens of Lakewood whether they wanted to swap 22 acres of Iron Spring Park to Carma Colorado, the company that's building an 1100-home, master-planned community along Alameda Parkway, in exchange for land owned by Carma east of the park. When the public was finally consulted, in a special election forced by opponents of the swap, the result was a stunning upset: 14,216 against the deal, 10,594 in favor, according to uncertified results announced by the city clerk last night.

As detailed in our article "Trading Spaces" last month, opponents of the land trade claimed that the city would be giving up park land with tremendous views of Red Rocks and Dinosaur Ridge for a "drainage strip" along a natural gulch. Led by local activist Rita Bertolli (pictured), the "Don't Switch for the Ditch" crowd contested the official appraisal of the two parcels and gathered enough petitions to challenge the city's effort to complete the deal without a public vote.

Backers of the deal claimed that it would preserve a popular hiking and biking area, albeit on private land, that links Green Mountain open space with parks to the south. Bertolli insists the developer probably isn't going to extensively develop the ditch land anyway, but the "vote yes" campaign, working closely with Carma, easily outspent the opposition with an ambitious phone-and-flyer campaign.

The tally for the mail-in ballot amounted to nearly a third of all Lakewood voters — despite the blizzard, the holidays, and other factors that seemed to predict a dismal turnout. The thumbs-down won't affect Carma's general plans for its $550 million project, but it does suggest that many locals believe that parks ought to be parks, and stay that way.

Even if their elected officials don't think so. -- Alan Prendergast

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts