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.
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 would exempt the Park Hill Golf Course land from needing a citywide vote to lift its conservation easement … which is only something that would be needed if Initiated Ordinance 301 were to pass. (This is our more in-depth explanation of the whole thing.)
Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:
Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure to do the following: 1) amend the definition of conservation easement to apply only to conservation easements which have been reviewed and approved by the Division of Conservation and for which an income tax credit certificate has been issued by the Division of Conservation pursuant to C.R.S. §§ 12-15-105 and 106; 2) require voter approval before the City allows residential or commercial construction on City ark land or City property protected by a conservation easement with exceptions for limited construction related to recreational use, cultural facilities, or construction consistent with the terms of a conservation easement; and 3) require voter approval to extinguish a City-owned conservation easement?
How would it work?
This measure changes the definition of “conservation easement.” Instead of using the umbrella term “City-owned conservation easement” like ordinance 301, this bill relies on the definition set up by state statutes §§ 12-15-105 and 106. Under these definitions, conservation easements must have state-issued tax credit certificates. Because of the Park Hill Golf Course’s complicated history, the easement does not fall under this category.
Who’s for it and who’s against it?
Westside, the developer, supports this ballot measure because it exempts the land from the new citywide vote proposed by the other ballot initiative being pushed by SOS Denver. Westside prefers avoiding the vote because they expected to be able to work with the city of Denver to lift the conservation easement when they first bought the land without this extra hurdle. The city has already invested in community outreach, most of which has pointed toward approval for a mixed-use development, although the surveys themselves have received criticism.
Northeast Park Hill is also 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 Initiated 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.