The City of Denver reached a settlement with the owners of a golf course in Park Hill this week, forking over $6 million to put an end to a complex series of legal battles.
The settlement ends all of pending litigation over the property but does not add any sort of clarity to the future of the 155 acres of land, which has embroiled the city, open space advocates and the various owners and operators of the golf course for years.
The agreement between the city and the property’s owner, Westside Investment Partners, will maintain a long-standing conservation easement on the land, which prohibits development on the property. The agreement gives Westside at least three years to finalize their plans for the property and start a public engagement process to vet other possible uses for the land. To develop the property, Westside would need to get City Council approval to remove the conservation easement and rezone the property.
According to city officials, the settlement was designed to allow the city to disentangle itself from the legal mess surrounding the golf course, while still giving Denverites some say in what happens on the private property.
“My priorities for the property and for the neighborhood have always been preserving open space and extensive community input. This agreement ensures we will have both,” Mayor Michael Hancock said via a press release Tuesday. “The easement will be preserved while the neighbors who are most impacted by this property will be able to guide its future use.”
At least one group in the area opposes any development on the land. Save Open Space Denver, a group backed by former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, wants to see the entire property turned into a park. The group held a rally last month to draw attention to a new state law that they say prohibits the removal of the conservation easement unless conditions make it impossible to preserve the land.
In documents released following the settlement, the City Attorney’s Office disputed this claim, saying there is a “clear legal path” under the new state statute to modify or remove the easement. In those same documents, the City Attorney’s Office also argued that the current easement would not allow for a park anyway. According to the city, the only permitted use under the easement is a golf course.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed against the city in March by Arcis Golf, the company that leased and operated the golf course until this year. In the lawsuit, Arcis claims they were not reimbursed for their property expenses once the city started work on a stormwater drainage project on 35 acres of the golf course, forcing it to close. In July, Westside bought the property, buying Arcis out of their lease and taking over the lawsuit. The $6 million paid out will come from the city’s budget for the project and is to cover all future claims and expenses related to the city’s use of the land.
While the settlement closes the door on the legal entanglements surrounding the property, it opens many more as to its future development. Westside has not released any plans for the property but has said they intend to keep some of the open space. But the plans will likely involve building something — probably housing — and if those plans don’t receive support from the community, the city could potentially buy the land.
“We have been working hard to get to know the people, the history, and the community surrounding this unique property and are looking forward to participating in a city led, community driven process to re-imagine this land for the future.” said Kenneth Ho, who leads the project for Westside, in a statement. “We think we can do more to meet access, equity, health, open space, and environmental stewardship goals for Denver than to restore this land as a golf course.