Denver leaders axed Save Open Space from the committee working on the future of the Park Hill Golf Course

“It’s about as subtle as a heart attack,” said SOS Denver member Lisa Calderón.
5 min. read
The Park Hill Golf Course. Northeast Park Hill, Sept. 23, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

On January 13, Save Open Space Denver, the group opposed to the development of the 155-acre shuttered Park Hill Golf Course, received a surprising note from city leaders. The group’s seat on the Park Hill Golf Course Area Plan Steering Committee had been denied.

The stated reason: The organization opposed the vision and visioning process for the future development of the shuttered golf course, which was purchased by Westside Investment Partners in 2019 to be turned into a mixed-use development.

“Given Save Open Space’s stated disagreement with the prevailing vision and the visioning process to this point, we believe that further participation by Save Open Space as part of the committee would only result in further discord within the community and would not be a valuable use of the committee’s or your organization’s time,” Parks and Recreation head Happy Haynes and Community Planning and Development head Laura Aldrete explained in their note to SOS. “We expect and encourage Save Open Space to remain involved through other community engagement avenues, and we will continue to respond to input and questions. At this point, however, the steering committee is not the venue for those discussions.”

Save Open Space previously had a representative, Sandy Robnett, on the committee, said SOS publicist Colette Carey. Robnett resigned due to work commitments.

“SOS wanted to replace her with Dr. Lisa Calderón but were denied that placement and then the entire seat was removed,” Carey explained.

Calderón is a longstanding community activist, former mayoral candidate, lawyer and more recently, a champion of the Park Hill Golf Course being preserved as open space. She’s also involved in a lawsuit against the city, claiming Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration retaliated against her by cutting a contract the city had with her Community Reentry Program, after she criticized the sheriff’s department.

Her take on being denied a seat: The Hancock administration is retaliating against her opposition to its policies again. In turn, City officials are using their power to prevent the perspective of a majority of voters from being included in the visioning process.

SOS Denver’s Initiative 301, which required the public to approve any changes to voter-approved conservation easements, was approved by 63 percent of voters. The measure effectively stopped Westside from developing the golf course without a citywide vote to modify the conservation easement.

As it continues with its visioning process for the future of the golf course, the City said it wants to keep the conversation constructive and productive, which is why SOS can’t be a part of it.

“Our goals for the committee are focused on supporting constructive dialogue, keeping the time members have volunteered as productive as possible and maintaining a balance of perspectives that reflects the diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding the golf course, both in demographics and interests,” the City’s letter continued. “We continue to have multiple members of the committee who value open space and who bring expertise and passion for well-designed park spaces.”

But Calderón doesn’t buy it. “That’s not democracy,” she said.

How could the group value diversity if SOS Denver, which has been one of the leading participants in the public debate, is barred from the steering committee, she wondered.

Mayoral candidate Lisa Calderón addresses supporters at her election night watch party, May 7, 2019. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

“It’s about as subtle as a heart attack,” Calderón said. “We hear they don’t want my voice as a strong opponent of the initiative as well as any representation from SOS Denver to be part of their so-called visioning process.”

The steering committee will help create the City’s vision for the future of the golf course.

Laura Swartz, a spokesperson for Community Planning and Development, said the steering committee will focus on how to implement eight priorities established by area residents during a year-long visioning process.

“This includes designing park space as well as discussing housing, food access, local business support, and similar community needs,” she wrote in a statement. “Save our Open Space has stated their opposition to this process in a number of formats, making the steering committee an inappropriate venue for their continued participation. The city believes there are other venues, such as focus groups or similar sessions, where Save our Open Space can engage with city planners on SOS’s vision for the park space component, if the group wishes. The city remains open to and invites this input.”

Once Community Planning and Development has established a proposal for how the voter-passed conservation easement could be updated, voters will have a chance to weigh in.

SOS Denver said excluding the group from the table is an attempt to shut down its perspective that the Golf Course should go undeveloped.

Harry Doby, who lives nearby the Park Hill Golf Course and was an early member of SOS Denver, was baffled by the City’s decision to ax his group from participating in the steering committee.

He argued it’s a sign that developers have too much sway over local government.

“It’s totally unfair,” he said. “The developer is running roughshod over the City, and the City is running roughshod over the citizens. What else is new?”

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