Lawsuit over Denver’s golf course flood control project moves forward

The city argued that the court didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction because the claims were not “ripe.” A Denver District Court judge didn’t buy that.
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City Park Golf Course (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Earlier this year, a longtime northeast Denver resident and former state attorney general, John D. MacFarlane, sued the city of Denver over its plans to use City Park Golf Course as part of the Platte to Park Hill flood control project.

On Wednesday, that lawsuit survived its first hurdle -- a request from the city that it be summarily dismissed. Denver District Court Judge Michael Vallejos ruled that the court had jurisdiction and the plaintiff had standing. The lawsuit will proceed.

In his lawsuit, MacFarlane makes a number of claims: that the flood control project violates the city charter by using park land for something other than a park purpose, that the city has "obfuscated" the true purpose of the project and that it is primarily to benefit the proposed I-70 expansion and the redevelopment of the National Western Center rather than the residents of northeast Denver.

The city argued that the court didn't have subject matter jurisdiction because the claims were not "ripe." The city said MacFarlane had not suffered any specific injury, and the city's plans are too tentative for the court to determine the impact of the project on the golf course and its users.

Vallejos didn't buy that.

"A site selection has been made for the Project and Defendants’ own materials include a tentative redesign timeline indicating closure from late 2018 into 2019," he wrote in a ruling issued Monday. "Here, it does not appear to the Court that this is a mere possibility of a future controversy, but rather Defendants have selected (City Park Golf Course) for the site location, developed and distributed fact sheets concerning the Project, and advanced several plans for the Project which allegedly all require closure of the (golf course)."

The city also argued that there was no basis for MacFarlane to claim that the city was "disposing" of park property for non-park purposes, as the city isn't leasing or selling the golf course. The golf course will remain in city hands and reopen as a golf course when the project is done.

However, Vallejos found that the links between the flood control project and I-70 might be relevant.

"Plaintiff alleges that the Colorado Department of Transportation (“CDOT”) needs a location to put storm water in order to protect its I-70 project," the ruling says. "Plaintiff asserts that I-70 is in need of a drainage system to accommodate the 100 year flood protection plan. Plaintiff in turn argues that “[r]ather than CDOT constructing its own drainage system . . . CDOT proposes to construction [sic] through impoverished north Denver neighborhoods,” in violation of the Denver Charter because such actions are akin to a sale or lease of a portion of CPGC.

"While Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s claim fails to allege any facts that a sale or lease of any portion of CPGC is underway or even contemplated, the Court does not agree," the ruling continues. "Plaintiff clearly asserts and cites factual allegations indicating that the Project would require closure of the CPGC despite what plan Defendants ultimately select."

This ruling doesn't really deal with the actual merits of MacFarlane's lawsuit, but it does mean those claims will get a more thorough airing and that the city will have to make its case for why the project comports with the charter and the zoning code.

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