Two Park Hill Golf Course initiatives are on the Denver ballot this fall. Here’s what each one would do

Why is this so confusing??
4 min. read
The Park Hill Golf Course. June 4, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Developer Westside Investment Partners, which bought what used to be Park Hill Golf Course in 2019, got a measure approved for the November ballot on Tuesday. It's a counter-measure to an initiative submitted by an opposing group called Save Open Space Denver.

The two organizations have been at odds about the future of the 155 acres of green space in Northeast Denver for years now. SOS Denver wants all of the space turned into a park, while Westside wants to build a mixed-use development, promising some park space, too.

SOS Denver cites the city's lack of green space as a reason against development, and believes that Westside will go back on its promises. Westside, meanwhile, argues that SOS Denver isn't listening to nearby residents' need for things like grocery stores and affordable housing.

Both sides claim to uphold the views and best interests of locals, although everything from city surveys to community feedback sessions have been hotly disputed.

The two ballot initiatives change laws regarding the conservation easement that the land has been under since 1997, but the nitty-gritty is a little complicated. We broke it down for you.

Ballot Initiative Number One

Official name: Parks and Open Space Preservation

Who's backing this? SOS Denver, the group that is against development of the land. They submitted 10,720 valid signatures and were approved for the ballot on June 21.

What does it do? The bill changes the Denver Municipal Code so the city no longer has the final say in lifting conservation easements. Instead, Denverites will have to give approval through a citywide vote to end a conservation easement. The same rule goes for any construction slated for green spaces like parks -- but exceptions can be made for things like recreational facilities.

Here's the most relevant text from the bill: "Construction of any commercial or residential building on land designated as a city park or protected by a City-owned conservation easement and any partial or complete termination, release, extinguishment or abandonment of a city-owned conservation easement are prohibited without the approval of a majority of the registered electors voting in a regularly scheduled or special municipal election." 

Why it matters: Any development of Park Hill would have to first go through a citywide vote under this measure. However, Westside would rather iron out the conservation easement with the city itself, which is why they've worked hard on the counter-measure below.

Ballot Initiative Number Two

Official name: City Park Land and City Property Protected by a Conservation Easement

Who's backing this? Westside, the developer that bought the land in 2019. They submitted 9,661 valid signatures and were approved for the ballot on July 27.

What does it do? The language of this bill is identical to the first ballot measure; The only difference is what section of Colorado law it uses to define "conservation easement" - instead of using the definition the SOS Denver measure cites, it relies on a different one that exempts Park Hill on a technicality.

Here's the most relevant text from the bill: "An interest in real property as defined in C.R.S.... for which a Colorado state income tax credit certificate has been issued by the Division of Conservation." (Basically just a way of saying, "Conservation easements only apply if a certain certificate has been issued for the land." -- which exempts Park Hill.)

Why it matters: If this bill passes, the city will have more strict laws concerning conservation easements, but they won't apply to Park Hill. It effectively neutralizes ballot measure number one and its citywide vote, although the law will still be on the books.

These bills are both tailored to one parcel of land, which means it's a little unclear what impact the laws would have on other open spaces under conservation easements in Denver. Westside's legal counsel previously said the measures wouldn't really change anything because SOS Denver's measure applies to exactly one property, Park Hill, while the counter measure applies to none.

To Recap:

If initiative number one passes, the entire city will be able to vote on Park Hill's conservation easement before construction begins. If initiative number two or both initiatives pass, the city will have a new law in the books for citywide conservation easements. But nothing will change about Park Hill.

We will be right back to square one: arguing over development at a defunct golf course.

Happy voting, Denverites.

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