Denver’s Park Hill Golf Course likely won’t make November ballot

As the tussle over the future of the former Park Hill Golf Club continues, city planners and the development company that owns the 155-acre property brace for another round of public comment on plans that would define better this redevelopment. might look like.

Meanwhile, opponents of commercial and residential development that might appear on the old links, are calling the planning process hopelessly flawed and are struggling to share their own ideas of what the property might look like.

Amid the noise, one thing becomes clear: Denver residents shouldn’t expect to see a golf course-related question on their ballots in November.

Last year, voters approved Ordinance initiated 301. The move strengthened protections for the taxpayer-funded conservation easement that covers the land, giving the city’s electorate the final say on whether that easement may or may not be lifted. While the easement is in place, no non-golf related development may take place on the property located along the east side of Colorado Boulevard between East 35th and East 40th Avenues.

“We absolutely plan to respect (the ordinance) and ask voters this question,” said Kenneth Ho, a director at Westside Investment Partnersthe real estate company which bought the land for $24 million in 2019. “The timing is yet to be determined, but I think we can pretty much say it won’t be November.”

Last week, Westside submitted an application to the planning department for the grand development review process, a special track for large projects likely to develop over long periods of time. This request is summarized on Westwide’s website. It calls for the creation of hundreds of affordable housing units for sale and rent (far beyond what the city’s affordable housing policy requires) and donating over 100 acres to the city for regional park .

“We need to have a clear vision in order to put this out to voters and that’s what this process is,” Ho said. The broad development review effort is expected to culminate in a binding affordable housing agreement with the city and other legal safeguards.

Next up for Westside is an open house scheduled for the golf course clubhouse on August 4.

“We’re getting ready to announce some pretty amazing partnerships and additional features and community benefits that we’ll be announcing at this August 4th meeting,” Ho said. featured in the app.”

This effort is occurring alongside the city-controlled planning process for the property that dates back to early last year. In December, Denver Community Planning and Development officials released the “overarching vision” for the property. The eight-point vision included the creation of a large public park, but also called for commercial space for local businesses, especially those owned by people of color, and the provision of space for a grocery store and other fresh food options.

Led by city planner David Gaspers, the city is preparing a draft plan which should be ready for public review next month. The plan, intended to serve as a guide rather than a set of demands, would cover things like recommended land use, mobility and a roadmap for housing integration.

A draft of land use recommendations available on the city website shows the portion of the property closest to Colorado Boulevard set aside for denser development. The eastern half of the property is reserved for park space. This draft map highlights the corner closest to East 40th Avenue as being able to accommodate buildings up to 12 stories high.

Save Open Space Denver, the community group fighting the changes to the golf course, is still working to oppose the planning process. Led by former state senator (and possible Denver 2023 mayoral candidate) Penfield Tate, SOS Denver called the city’s work a sham.

The group’s dedicated seat on the city’s steering committee for the property was removed earlier this year, which Tate says shows the city is putting its finger on the balance in favor of redevelopment. Gaspers noted that Shanta Harrison, a member of SOS Denver, remains on the committee as a representative for the greater Park Hill neighborhood.

The mainstream view released in December is also illegitimate in Tate’s eyes because the steering committee did not have a chance to review it before it was released to the public. Gasper pointed out that community surveys and interviews also informed the vision, not just the steering committee.

SOS Denver filed a lawsuit to stop the planning process, a lawsuit that was dismissed earlier this year. For Tate and other supporters of preserving the land as a park or open space, the ongoing planning effort is a demonstration that city officials are ignoring what voters want, as expressed in the November election. last. Not only did Initiate Ordinance 301 pass by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, but Initiate Ordinance 302, a competing Westside-backed measure that would have exempted the golf course from voter oversite, failed by a similar margin.

“They basically decided to ignore the will of the people and move on,” Tate said.

Tate and SOS Denver are gearing up for a question asking voters to lift the conservation easement to appear on ballots this fall.

“We don’t think the city has been a bunch of straight shooters on anything, so we’re going to be ready to deal with that in November,” he said.

If city staffers plan to ask council to send a matter back to the ballot this year, they’re running out of time. The last chance the council would have to act and meet election deadlines is Aug. 29, according to a council spokesperson.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who represents that city as a whole but lives less than two miles from the golf course property, said she doesn’t think there’s enough time for a question to be asked. put to the ballot in November. She’s okay with that. She’s in no rush.

She wants to see Westside commit to a community benefits agreement focused on neighborhood equity outcomes. She wants commitments to plentiful affordable housing and a vast expanse of open space.

“I think the community needs time to have an authentic conversation with this development team,” she said.

A contractor has started the feedback process for a Community Benefits Agreement. In the meantime, SOS Denver brought in its own landscape architect and came up with a rendering of what the property would look like if kept entirely as park space with new sports fields, a water park and other features. .

“It’s always the same message. It’s green space on concrete,” Tate said. “People have already spoken on this issue.”

Ho and his colleagues argue that if the conservation easement remains in place, it allows for only one use: an 18-hole regulation-length private golf course. Whatever SOS Denver is offering, they don’t own the property or intend to fund it, he said.

“One of the things that overwhelms us is reality,” Ho said. “What they broadcast is fiction.”

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