Politics

Denver City Council keeps Park Hill Golf Course off November ballot

Denver City Council shot down a ballot measure Monday night that would have placed a measure on the city’s November ballot asking whether development on the now-defunct Park Hill Golf Course should require a vote.

The measure, proposed by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, would have changed the city charter so Denverites would have to vote before any development begins on land covered by a conservation easement.

Council voted 10-3 to refer the measure back to committee, ensuring it won’t meet the Sept. 4 deadline to be placed on the 2020 ballot. Only Councilwomen CdeBaca, Robin Kniech and Amanda Sawyer voted against referring the measure back to committee.

The 155-acre Park Hill Golf Course, which Westside Investment Partners bought for $24 million, is the only property in Denver covered by such an easement, said Ryan Luby, spokesperson for the city attorney’s office.

The proposal is the fourth ballot measure from Cdebaca that council has killed or delayed this month. All four were filed directly to the council’s agenda, meaning they skipped the council’s committee process. While CdeBaca has said she’s grown distrustful of the committees, other council members have made it clear that skipping them cost the councilwoman their support.

The debate over the Park Hill Golf Club has pitted members of the neighborhood against each other.

Taxpayers effectively purchased the conservation easement on the property, said Penfield Tate of Save Open Space Denver, so they should be asked before it’s changed or removed. Even former Mayor Wellington Webbhas come out against development there.

But Abdur-Rahim Ali, imam at the Northeast Denver Islamic Center, just south of the property, said responsibly developing the land is the way to go. Only those with a position of privilege would advocate for leaving all 155 acres open, he said.

The neighborhood needs affordable and attainable housing alongside businesses and hopefully even a grocery store, Ali said. That can only happen if the community works with the developer.

“We want to rejuvenate and revive the community,” Ali said.

The easement requires the land to be used primarily as a golf course, the Denver city attorneys said in an 2019 opinion of the document. The golf course closed at the end of 2018.

Currently, the City Council has the authority to amend the easement, and any possible development there would also require council approval, Luby confirmed.

Councilman Chris Herndon, whose district includes the land, voted against the measure. He said he wants the neighborhoods surrounding the land to lead the development discussion, and he’ll back whatever they want for the site.

Tate said, among other things, he wants to see more affordable housing if the land is developed and possibly a grocery store. He said he’s concerned about a lack of commitment from Westside to provide those amenities.

But Kenneth Ho, company principal, said Westside has already committed to preserving at least 60 acres as usable park space. Other commitments will come as the planning process continues, he said.

“We don’t want to pre-judge the community process so we don’t want to make too many commitments before we have a comprehensive conversation with the community about their needs,” Ho said. “Prior to any rezoning we will put all of our commitments in writing as part of a legally binding Development Agreement and a Community Benefits Agreement.”

The community planning process is on track to begin this fall for the property, said Laura Schwartz, communications director for Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development. During that process, city planners will work with residents who live closest and are most impacted by the land, she said.

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