Denver wants to put a new park in University Hills using a sales tax approved by voters last year

The parcel the city is interested in buying currently houses a greenhouse, which will close if the plan is approved.

Groundcovers Greenhouse & Garden Center on East Iliff Avenue on Monday, April 22, 2019, in the University Hills North neighborhood in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Groundcovers Greenhouse & Garden Center on East Iliff Avenue on Monday, April 22, 2019, in the University Hills North neighborhood in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

UPDATE: The Finance and Governance Committee unanimously approved the purchasing agreement on Tuesday, April 23. It’s now forwarded to the City Council for further consideration. 

If all goes according to the city’s plan, University Hills will trade a greenhouse for a park on East Illif Avenue.

City officials on Monday said they are eyeing property at 4301 and 4307 E. Iliff Avenue as their first land acquisition paid for by funds from a tax increase for parks voters approved last year. The 82,985-square-foot parcel is currently occupied by Groundcovers Greenhouse & Garden Center, including a greenhouse, a nursery and business offices. It sits in an area the city has identified as lacking walkable park access.

Denver wants to pay $5.1 million for the property, according to city documents.

Approved by voters in November 2018, ballot measure 2A allowed for a .25 percent sales tax increase to collect money for creating and maintaining green spaces in Denver. It’s part of the city’s wider goal of ensuring all residents are within a 10-minute walk from a park. The city estimates 2A will generate more than $37 million a year.

Property and business owner Gary Luster said Groundcovers has been in business for more than 35 years. Speaking over the phone from Arizona, where he lives part-time, Luster said he purchased the property in the early 1980s.

He said they’ve never put the property on the market and that the city approached him with the plan. While he’s waved-off previous offers, Luster said he’s in his mid-70s and has decided to come to an agreement with the city as he makes retirement plans.

“It’s been a very good business for us. It’s been very successful,” Luster said. “It’s just time for me to back out.”

Groundcovers Greenhouse & Garden Center offices on East Iliff Avenue on Monday, April 22, 2019, in the University Hills North neighborhood in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Groundcovers Greenhouse & Garden Center offices on East Iliff Avenue on Monday, April 22, 2019, in the University Hills North neighborhood in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

At the moment, Luster said they’ve scheduled July 15 as their closing date, which allows them to continue operating through May, a month Luster likened to Christmastime for a greenhouse business. But he added the city has given him two additional months if they need them to close up shop completely, which he indicated he might use. Employees were scheduled to be notified this week of the impending closure.

Luster said the city “has been unbelievably nice” throughout the process. He said the city intends to reuse some of the material from his shop for their own greenhouses, including recently-installed fiberglass roofs.

A release from the city said “due to the scarcity of land and numerous redevelopment projects,” the property is one of the last of its size in that area of the city that could still be turned into a green space.

The new park would sit in Councilwoman Kendra Black’s district in southeast Denver. Black said in the release Monday that parks play “a critical role in the health and well-being of our communities.”

“Additional park access in the University Hills North neighborhood is critical to supporting an active, healthy lifestyle for the residents who live there today and the many new residents who will move there as new housing comes online,” Black said.

Happy Haynes, executive director of Parks and Recreation, said in a release Monday that 86 percent of Denver residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space.

“As our city grows, it’s never been more important to protect, preserve and grow our parks and recreational opportunities,” Haynes said in the release.

Cynthia Karvaski, a spokesperson for Denver Parks and Recreation, said Monday it’s still unclear what a potential timeline for construction looks like. She said the city will gather public input on what they would like to see in the space.

Mayor Michael Hancock supports the acquisition, adding in the release that “our residents deserve parks that are easily accessible, safe and fun.”

The acquisition would require City Council approval. The proposed purchase agreement for the parcel is scheduled to be presented to the city council’s Finance and Governance Committee on Tuesday.

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