The two parties debating the future of the old Park Hill Golf Course, owners Westside Investment Partners and the group Save Open Space Denver, are now working towards mostly identical ballot initiatives to achieve their visions.
Their goals don’t seem too conflicting on the surface. SOS Denver wants all 155 acres of the defunct golf course to be turned into a park. Meanwhile Westside, which bought the property in 2019, wants to build a mixed-use development, which it verbally agreed would include 60 acres of park.
What’s at stake here are 95 acres of green space in Northeast Denver. And both sides claim to uphold the views and best interests of nearby residents.
On to the ballot initiatives.
The Park Hill Golf Course is under a conservation easement, which requires the land be used as some sort of open space. SOS Denver believes the conservation easement would allow for an easy transition from golf course to park, without having to lift the easement. Westside and city officials, on the other hand, believe the language only allows the land to be used as a golf course. The developer is counting on Denver City Council to help it straighten out the easement and get its mixed-use development approved. But there’s no guarantee that’ll happen.
The two new ballot measures have complicated things further.
SOS Denver’s initiative, which was approved for the November ballot on June 21, would require a citywide vote before the conservation easement can be lifted. This is the group’s attempt to inject Denverites back into the development process.
“I have watched this game before,” Penfield Tate, an SOS Denver member and former mayoral candidate, said on a May 14 episode of City Cast Denver. “Developers come and promise things on the front end, and then as time goes on, their plans and what they actually do almost never matches the promises made.”
Meanwhile, Westside’s legal counsel Thomas Rogers argued at a meeting on June 4 that a citywide vote would negate the views already expressed by the diverse groups living in the neighborhoods near the land, which is in the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood and is bordered by Elyria-Swansea and Clayton.
The initiative Westside funded to hit back at SOS Denver’s would change the legal definition of a conservation easement, exempting the Park Hill Golf Course from that feared citywide vote.
During a meeting about the initiative Friday, Rogers was not shy about the fact that the new ballot initiative is based on SOS Denver’s.
“Our measure is identical to the pending SOS measure, with one addition,” he said. “Theirs would apply to, we believe, exactly one property – the Park Hill Golf Course – while ours would apply to no properties at all.”
SOS Denver’s measure has been approved for the ballot, while the Westside-backed measure has until July 6 to gather signatures.
So what does the community think? To assess community support, Denver Metro Community Impact, a nonprofit, held organized community discussions in February and March of this year. The top three themes mentioned by residents in regards to the golf course were retail, open space and housing. Pretty much in line with a mixed-use development, right? However, other oft-discussed topics included gentrification, displacement and a general sense of distrust regarding the city and the developer.
Note: This story was updated to reflect that SOS Denver’s initiative was approved for the November ballot.