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Stop the development of the Park Hill Golf Course

By Woody Garnsey

Guest Commentary

Mayor Michael Hancock and his administration are again showing their true colors in support of developing the Park Hill Golf Course land in north Denver. And, they’re doing this despite the fact that the land is zoned “open space-recreation” and is protected from development by a perpetual open space conservation easement that can’t be terminated without a court order.

A month after Hancock’s 2019 reelection victory, real estate developer Westside Investment Partners, Inc., a major pro-Hancock PAC donor, purchased the land subject to the recorded conservation easement.

Here’s how Hancock and his administration have handled the proposed development of this open space land: First, Mayor Hancock clarified in the fall of 2017 that he supported Park Hill Golf Course land development when the city and the then-landowner Clayton floated a plan for the city to purchase the land for development. This plan failed after Clayton’s golf course operator sued to enforce its contractual lease rights.

Second, during his 2019 reelection campaign, Hancock’s opponents and the news media finally forced him to admit that he had development plans for the land.

Third, in November 2019 — disregarding the open space and recreational conservation purposes of the conservation easement — the city contractually agreed to give Westside three years “to pursue a process to explore community support” for future new uses of the land.

And, fourth, on Feb. 7 the Community Planning and Development Department is launching a formal “visioning” and “small area plan” process for the land.

Westside has the city’s agreement to conduct this formal planning process as part of its effort to generate support for developing a mini-city on some of the now protected open space land.

In short summary, there is an insurmountable legal impediment to Westside’s development plans for this land.

The land’s perpetual open space conservation easement prevents development, and the Colorado conservation easement statute only permits termination of the conservation easement if a court determines that — based on changes on or surrounding the land since the creation of the easement — it has become “impossible” to fulfill the easement’s “conservation purposes.” Only after issuance of such a court order could City Council effectively terminate the conservation easement and change the zoning. I see no facts that would support such a court determination.

Under these circumstances, why does it make sense for the city to initiate a planning process for this land? A planning process would cause the city to expend significant staff and financial resources. It would also impose heavy burdens on our citizens to spend the time, energy, and other resources necessary for meaningful participation. What a colossal waste of scarce resources.

Our grassroots citizens group Save Open Space Denver has repeatedly asked Hancock and his administration to explain any city claim that the Colorado statute somehow doesn’t apply to the land conservation easement or that there is a factual basis for securing a court order allowing termination of the easement. The city administration has completely ignored these requests.

Hancock and his administration must not continue hiding their strategies from citizens as they embark on a long and expensive development planning process.

And, as Denver Post reporter Bruce Finley powerfully explained in his Jan. 3 article “Unpaving Denver,” preserving and enhancing Denver’s open spaces is now more critical than ever for the health and quality of life.

Woody Garnsey is a member of Save Open Space Denver, a Denver native and long-time Park Hill resident, and a retired attorney.

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