Video: Former parks official denounces open space "heist"

The management of Denver's park system under Mayor Michael Hancock's administration has generated controversies on several fronts, as detailed in our current feature, "Parks and Wreck." But perhaps the most serious dispute between the mayor and park lovers has to do with his decision to swap eleven acres of cherished open space in the Cherry Creek corridor -- land that city officials have described as "blighted" and "degraded" -- for an office building. It's a deal that his critics denounce in a new video as an "abduction" of a park.

As we've reported here earlier, the city attorney maintains that the Hentzell Park Natural Area is "simply not a park" because it was never officially designated as a park by ordinance. Denver Parks and Recreation manager Lauri Dannemiller removed its "natural area" designation earlier this year at Hancock's urging, overruling the recommendation of her own advisory board. But Friends of Denver Parks, the grass-roots group fighting the land swap, insists that the area has been treated as a park by the city since its acquisition in 1936 and that Hampden Heights neighbors who purchased homes in the area relied on officials' representations that it would remain undeveloped.

"Hampden Heist: The Abduction of a Denver Park," a new short film, lays out that position through interviews with residents, historian Tom Noel, attorney John Case -- and Susan Baird, a former senior planner at DPR who's been a staunch champion of the area's importance as a refuge for wildlife and one of the last vestiges of a prairie ecosystem within the city. Local filmmaker KC Keefer's self-financed effort, rich in autumn imagery, also makes a pretty striking visual case that the area, though it includes a two-acre parking lot, isn't quite as "blighted" as city officials say it is.

And Baird is hardly the only former city official to oppose the land swap. Friends of Denver Parks attorney Case reports that the group recently received "a very generous donation" from Wellington and Wilma Webb, along with this statement from the former mayor: "I believe in the protection of Denver parks within the city and in the mountains. I do not support the use of park space for development. I believe we should maintain what we have and acquire additional park space for future generations."

Check out the video below.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast