Green Versus Concrete
YES for Parks and Open Space is a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers who care deeply about the City of Denver, the Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land and its surrounding neighborhoods, and the quality of life and health for all Denver residents. This all-volunteer group came together because of the shared sense of the importance of saving the last piece of significant Denver open space that could become a new park with the goal of having the City eventually purchase the PHGC land for a fabulous regional park.
- This part of Denver needs green space; it’s densely developed with negative public health effects and lots of infill development potential.
- The City and citizens of Denver paid for the Conservation Easement to protect this land from development. Contrary to the claims of the City Administration and the developer (Westside Investment Partners), the PHGC land DOES NOT need to be operated as a golf course if the Conservation Easement is preserved.
- The City and Developer’s “community input” process has been a sham: Residents do NOT want this land developed. (Link to Sham Process document – from News, Articles, 2nd article “Community Planning and Development Sham Process”)
Northeast Denver Needs Green
In the last decade, Denver has grown dramatically and the ratio of park and open space land to people and traffic has raised serious concerns about public health and well-being, as well as issues of equality in public access to parks and recreation. In the Denver Post, Bruce Finley paints a more complete picture in articles available to subscribers:
- As development eats away at Denver’s green space, the “city within a park” is becoming a concrete metropolis
- “We need more open spaces”: Denver residents feeling stifled by city’s building boom seek room to roam
- “We are left with the dregs”: Heron Pond’s toxic brew spotlights obstacles in Denver’s push to regain green space
Parts of Denver are beautifully green; however, portions of the City are increasingly devoid of green space. This lack of natural landscapes, in parks and open areas, magnifies summer heat (Heat Island Effect), increases air quality issues, and depresses the quality of life for residents in these areas (see this letter from an environmental health physician). One area particularly underserved with parks and open space is Northeast Denver, specifically the communities around the PHGC land.
In August 2021, The Gazette reported that “No other populated area in the country carries as high an environmental risk as a few square miles just northeast of downtown Denver”, according to a study from ATTOM Data Solution. The PHGC land was undeveloped at the time of this study, and since the area is of meaningful size and a rare parcel of green in Northeast Denver, ANY development of this property will intensify these problems. Fortunately, preserving the PHGC land as a park or open space offers a great way to help all these things! Keeping the PHGC land as a park for open space and recreational use is an opportunity that will never come again in Denver with a property of this size. For studies examining the health, air quality and heat reduction benefits, as well as the public health value and economic value, of open space and park lands to urban residents, please see these documents from the Trust for Public Lands:
- The Health Benefits of Parks
- The benefits of green infrastructure for heat mitigation and emissions reductions in cities
- Measuring the economic benefits of a city park system
- From Fitness Zones to the Medical Mile
- The Benefits of Parks—Why America Needs More City Parks
- The Heat is On
- Time is running out to avert climate catastrophe. Parks can help.
More information regarding Denver’s need for parks and open space is can be found in a document from SOS Denver.
Golf Course Operation is Not Required When the Conservation Easement is Preserved
Fortunately, twenty-five years ago, in a move of brilliant foresight, the City of Denver (under Mayor Wellington Webb) purchased a Conservation Easement to protect the PHGC land and preserve a meaningful open space property in Northeast Denver. This Conservation Easement identifies “conservation purposes” and “permitted uses” for this land, which expressly preserve the entire 155 acres for open space and recreational uses. Contrary to assertions by Westside and the City Administration, when the Conservation Easement is preserved, the land does NOT always need to be used for golf operations.
[From the Save Open Space Denver legal team including Penfield W. Tate III (municipal finance attorney) in consultation with retired attorneys Patricia Wells (formerly Denver Water Department general counsel and Denver City Attorney) and Walter W. Garnsey, Jr. (retired civil law litigation attorney).] A conservation easement is an interest in real property that is defined and governed by Colorado statutory law. A conservation easement, by legal definition, imposes limits on the use of land to maintain it, among other things, “predominantly in a natural, scenic or open condition, or for wildlife habitat…or recreational…or other use or condition consistent with the protection of open land, environmental quality or life-sustaining ecological diversity.” While a variety of land uses may be allowed, these “permitted uses” must be consistent with this statutory definition and the specific “conservation purposes” described in the conservation easement document. The critical governing language in the Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land Conservation Easement that identifies the easement’s conservation purposes is found in paragraph 2 captioned “Grant of Easement” which states, in relevant part, as follows: Grantor hereby grants, bargains, sells, and conveys to Grantee a perpetual, non-exclusive conservation easement in gross over and upon the Golf Course Land to maintain the Golf Course Land’s scenic and open condition and to preserve the Golf Course land for recreational use…. The “permitted uses” listed in the Conservation Easement – golf course, tennis courts and ball fields – can be changed, but any new use must be consistent with the “conservation purposes” of open space and recreation. Therefore, if Westside Investment Partners, Inc., or any successor PHGC land property owner, chooses not to continue golf course operations on the PHGC land, it and the City could modify the Conservation Easement’s “permitted uses” to allow non-golf operations as long as any new uses would be consistent with the Conservation Easement’s open space and recreational “conservation purposes.” If any such modification would be inconsistent with the “conservation purposes,” a court order would be required, pursuant to the Colorado conservation easement statute.
For more in-depth information, you can read their full analysis of the Conservation Easement.
The Neighborhood Does NOT Want Development
The City’s and Westside’s credibility regarding the validity of their public “planning” process has been widely questioned. Many Denver citizens respect the City’s Conservation Easement on this land, see the public health challenges for residents of this part of Denver, and understand the inequity of these same residents’ access to park space; however, their voices have been mostly silenced or excluded from the Community Planning and Development Department (CPD) and the Developer’s planning process. (For more information about the unfortunate and illegitimate planning process, please read this article on the sham process.)
Many Northeast Denver residents have been clear that they want the PHGC land preserved as an open space and recreational property, and the residents across Denver have supported them, as witnessed by the votes on two ballot initiatives in the November 2021 election. Ballot Initiative 301, approved by 63.55% voters, requires citywide voter approval before commercial or residential development is allowed in any designated City parks or and land protected by a City-owned conservation easement. Developer Westside’s Ballot Initiative 302, defeated by 62.59% voters, would have exempted the Park Hill Golf Course property from the same citywide voter approval. Basically Ballot Initiative 301 moves the decision-making process about the development of properties protected by a City-owned conservation easement to voters city-wide. (See Ballotpedia for more information on these Ballot Initiatives).
In addition to the tragedy of a developer going against citizen wishes, the City of Denver has lost residents’ trust regarding development decisions. This loss of trust has now been confirmed, since (despite the 2021 vote) the City Administration and Westside have moved forward with plans to develop the PHGC land.
We need you to join us at the City Council public hearing on January 23, and in fighting against the City Administration’s ballot measure that will be on the April 4 municipal election ballot seeking voter support for breaking the Conservation Easement and opening the PHGC land for development. Will you please join and help us???
If you can, please use our Donate link to help our cause.
We hope you will join us in our vision of keeping Denver the “City within a Park”.