Denver Initiated Ordinance 301: The one that would make it harder to build on Park Hill Golf Course

This ordinance doesn’t mention the Park Hill Golf Course, but that’s what everything’s ultimately about.
3 min. read
The Park Hill Golf Course. June 4, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

?️ Denver Election Guide 2021: Links to info about ballot initiatives in Denver and Colorado, school board candidates and general voting questions are all right here.

Park Hill Golf Course, and the conservation easement the 155 acres are protected by, has directly spawned ballot measures 301 and 302, although neither mention the golf course by name. (We've written about this a bit.)

Greenspace advocates, organized into a group called Save Open Space Denver, or SOS Denver, oppose developing the land. They are going head-to-head with Westside Investment Partners, the developer who bought the land in 2019 with the goal of lifting the conservation easement and creating a mixed-use development.

Opponents accuse Westside of supporting their bottom line at the cost of the city's open space, while SOS Denver has been accused of single-mindedly pushing a catchy agenda while ignoring the needs and voices of the historically marginalized Northeast Park Hill neighborhood.

This ballot measure, supported by SOS Denver, is intended to add another level of protection to the conservation easement through a citywide vote. The other one is Westside's response, which exempts the land from this extra hurdle to development. Both ballot initiatives are just one part of the complex community outreach, legal discussions and lawsuits that make up the debates around the golf course.

Here's the language you'll see on the ballot:

Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure prohibiting the following without the approval of voters in a regularly scheduled municipal or special election: any commercial or residential development on land designated as a city park and land protected by a City-owned conservation easement except where consistent with park purposes, conservation easement purposes, or for cultural facilities, and any partial or complete cancellation of a City-owned conservation easement unless for the purpose of creating a new park?

How would it work?

This bill changes the Denver Municipal Code so the city no longer has the final say in lifting conservation easements. Instead, Denverites would have to give approval through a citywide vote to end the conservation easement. The same rule goes for any construction slated for green spaces like parks -- but exceptions can be made for things that are in line with park use or conservation easement goals, like recreational or cultural centers. Since this ballot measure is tailored to one piece of land, no one has really researched what other properties under conservation easement in Denver could be affected. Some advocates have said there are none.

Who's for it and who's against it?

SOS Denver supports ballot initiative 301, saying the entire city can decide whether or not the large tract of land will be developed. They believe that the undeveloped land could address things like the city's dwindling open space and growing heat island effect. Westside, the developer of the land, is against it.

Westside's argument against 301 (and for 302) largely hinges on the fact that Northeast Park Hill is a historically marginalized neighborhood whose large Black population has faced housing discrimination and systemic racism. Therefore, Westside and some residents argue that having a citywide vote on an issue entirely within this neighborhood is just another instance of taking away the agency of those who live in Northeast Park Hill.

To recap: Voting on Ordinance 301 will add a citywide vote to lifting conservation easements. Voting for 302 will exempt Park Hill Golf Course from the vote. If neither passes, nothing changes. If both pass, there will be a new law on the books that doesn't affect Park Hill Golf Course in any way.

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