Driving through Park Hill, it’s easy to think that a very contentious historical designation process is underway, but the entire thing is actually on hold while the opposing sides look for common ground.
“We’re in the process of meeting with some of the opposition folks to see if we can come to a solution to meet everyone’s goals that would be acceptable to more people,” said Rebecca Rogers of Historic Park Hill, the group advocating for the designation.
In 2015, some Park Hill residents started exploring historical designation as a means to protect homes from demolition and mitigate new “out-of-place homes.” By that fall, they’d identified a 32-block area that would have been subject to a design review process if Denver City Council approved the application.
“There was such neighborhood polarization over the issue before the possibility of reasoned discussion of alternatives materialized that people locked in very emotionally to the pro and anti positions,” said Jeff Pearson, a resident who opposes historic designation. “I hadn’t seen that in Park Hill really. It was very divisive.”
Yard signs to “Stop Historic Park Hill” were a common sight by fall 2016. The reasons for opposing the historic designation ranged from driving up real estate costs to environmental concerns and freedom over one’s domain.
But both sides, for historical designation and against, say this was when they started talking to each other.
It started with a city-sponsored mediator who spoke to each side individually, said Pearson. Now he’s part of a small group of three representatives from each side that has met about four or five times under the mediator’s guidance.
“Everybody wants to do something constructive, and I think we all have the interests of the neighborhood in mind,” Pearson said.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Rogers said. “At first, I was really not very hopeful because we were all so far apart, but the conversations have been really good.”
Still, despite all the optimism, neither side seems ready to call off the yard signs of war.
“At what point do we say, ‘Hey, we’re looking at these other options’? Until we really get a good feel for if the city’s going to go for it or not, it’s really hard to say,” Rogers said.
And Pearson still has a “Stop Historic Park Hill” sign in his yard, next to neighbors with signs supporting it.
“There’s not a lot of good communication to the neighborhood as a whole about what might happen and part of the reason for that is that nobody on either side is ready to say that something positive will happen,” he said.
Both Pearson and Rogers are optimistic for a negotiated outcome though.