Park Hill Residents Suing Over Planned Safe-Camping Site

Some Park Hill residents are objecting to this parking lot at the Park Hill United Methodist Church becoming a safe-camping site.
Some Park Hill residents are objecting to this parking lot at the Park Hill United Methodist Church becoming a safe-camping site. Kyle Harris
A group of Park Hill residents are suing the nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative, Park Hill United Methodist Church and the City of Denver to stop a safe-camping site for people experiencing homelessness proposed for South Park Hill.

"The proposed [site] has not met the requirements set out by the city, pose[s] a real danger to minors and school-aged children, does not address the impact it will have on the neighborhood and displaces people from an area with available resources to an area not equipped to handle the purpose of the [safe-camping site]," reads a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction filed in Denver District Court on May 6 by local attorneys Heather Anderson Thomas and Douglas W. Baier on behalf of five plaintiffs. Nathan Adams, the church's lead pastor, is the one person named as a defendant; he declined to comment on the suit. The lawyers for the plaintiffs have not responded to interview requests.

The Colorado Village Collaborative, which runs a safe-camping site at the Denver Community Church in the Uptown neighborhood, has been planning to relocate the tents for those staying at that site to the parking lot outside the Park Hill United Methodist Church in early June. And with a second site at the First Baptist Church in Capitol Hill also closing down at the end of May, the CVC plans to set up another safe-camping site at Regis University in June. The Park Hill and Regis sites would have a combined capacity for 100 people, and would remain open through the end of the year.

The five plaintiffs listed in the May 6 court filing are Kurt Monigle, Dave Rodman, Jean-Baptiste Varnier, Justin Lovac and Blair Taylor, who ran for the district's Denver City Council seat against current Councilman Chris Herndon in 2019. All of them reside in Park Hill, according to the complaint.

"I am very disheartened by that," Tracey MacDermott, board chair of the Greater Park Hill Community neighborhood organization, says of the lawsuit. "I had no idea this was coming, and Iā€™m extremely disappointed that some of our neighbors are spending money on a legal lawsuit versus putting that money into trying to figure out how to solve the homelessness crisis."

Adds Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative: "For us, all that this lawsuit does is instill our deep commitment to this project, and we know that this small vocal minority does not speak for the rest of the neighborhood. We are encouraging the Park Hill neighborhood to stand up for their values and stand up for this project, and a first great way to do that is by making a donation to CVC today."

Councilman Chris Herndon's office declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending, and sent questions to the Denver City Attorney's Office.

 "We understand the concerns, fears and questions raised by residents and will continue to partner with the CVC to address them, " says Theresa Marchetta, a spokesperson for the mayor's office speaking on behalf of the City Attorney's Office. "We stand proudly with the CVC. It will take a whole-of-city approach to deliver safer, healthier and more dignified options to our unhoused neighbors than living out on the streets."

The lawsuit marks the most significant attempt to block the establishment of a safe-camping site in a specific neighborhood. Residents of the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods had vocally opposed the placement of a safe-camping site in the Denver Coliseum parking lot last summer; members of the Five Points Business Improvement District had also argued against a site in that neighborhood.

After those complaints put an end to the proposed sites, the Colorado Village Collaborative and the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, in partnership with the nonprofit Earthlinks, instead focused on contracting with churches to use their parking lots rather than contract with the city to use Denver land, which requires approval from elected officials. CVC and the other nonprofits were able to set up the two safe-camping sites in the Uptown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods in December 2020. The six-month leases on those sites will be up soon; although before they opened, some neighbors had complained about the sites, none sued ā€” and the complaints died down after they opened.

Here's the lawsuit filed against the South Park Hill safe-camping site:
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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.