Golf course lawsuit won’t stop Denver City Council from approving golf course contracts

Contracts to reconfigure City Park Golf Course are likely to be approved Aug. 14. A lawsuit to stop the project goes to trial Aug. 21.
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City Park Golf Course (Kevin J. Beaty)

Update: Denver City Council voted 10-3 on Monday, Aug. 14, to approve all three contracts. Council members Rafael Espinoza, Paul Kashmann and Debbie Ortega voted no. Council members who voted in favor of a delay and then in favor of the contracts said defeating the contracts would not stop the I-70 expansion and would amount to granting the plaintiffs an injunction that the courts have not granted.

In two weeks, there will be a trial about the use of City Park Golf Course for stormwater detention. In one week, Denver City Council will vote on -- and likely approve -- two contracts worth $51 million to design and construct the flood control project that plaintiffs allege violates the city charter.

Councilman Rafael Espinoza, who is so opposed to this project that he tried unsuccessfully to join the lawsuit against the city, wanted his colleagues to wait three weeks -- until Aug. 28, when the four-day trial will have concluded -- to approve these contracts. Then he amended his request, asking to wait just until the trial starts on Aug. 21 to comply with council rules around contracts.

In a narrow 7-6 vote, the Denver City Council voted against the delay, meaning the contracts are likely to be approved at the council meeting next week.

Voting in favor of a delay: Espinoza, Kevin Flynn, Paul Kashmann, Paul López, Wayne New and Debbie Ortega.

Voting against a delay: Kendra Black, Albus Brooks, Jolon Clark, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Herndon, Robin Kniech and Mary Beth Susman.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of Denver residents. They argue that the plan -- to use the golf course for flood control as well as golf -- represents a violation of the city charter and city zoning ordinances.

The project is part of the larger Platte to Park Hill stormwater project, and opposition to it is deeply connected to opposition to the I-70 expansion. The lawsuit has survived a motion to dismiss by city attorneys and a motion for summary judgment, and it's headed to trial later this month.

This doesn't mean the judge thinks the plaintiffs will win. Instead, the judge is saying there's enough dispute about the facts and the issues that it needs to be heard in full.

The contracts before City Council are a $44.9 million contract with Saunders Construction for design and construction of City Park Golf Course improvements and a $6 million contract for project management with Parsons Transportation Group.

A third contract with Flatiron Constructors Inc. for $7.6 million would pay for large storm drainage pipes from 48th Avenue and Dahlia Street to a location near Smith Road and Dahlia Street, also part of Platte to Park Hill.

Jessica Brody with the City Attorney's Office told City Council she believes the city has a high likelihood of success in the lawsuit, and if for some reason the city does not prevail, there are termination and suspension clauses in the contract. It will be several months before any ground is broken at the golf course, with the first stage of the contract dedicated to design work.

However, she said a three-week delay in approving the contracts would unacceptably delay the project and have a big impact on the next golf season.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, appeals could stretch on for months or even years, and that question hung over the debate about a delay.

Espinoza said his largest concern is the large, mature trees on the golf course.

"How do you resolve this situation if 100-year-old trees are removed?" he asked.

"As you might anticipate, it is not possible to put the trees back," Brody said.

Council members who didn't want to wait said there's an important principle at play, that people not be able to slow down city projects indefinitely via lawsuits -- especially given that there is no injunction issued by the courts.

"I don’t think we should let a lawsuit dictate our timeline," Herndon said. "As legislators, we are tasked with moving this city forward, and we should not let fear of litigation stop us."

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