Park Hill Golf Course’s fate will be decided by the voters

City Council’s Monday night vote paves the way for massive development — if voters lift a contended land easement in April.
5 min. read
The Park Hill Golf Course. June 4, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Developer Westside Investment Partners' years-long attempt to develop the 155-acre Park Hill Golf Course got a big step closer to reality Monday night.

City Council approved several items related to the development, including referring to voters the question of whether to lift a contended conservation easement at the center of the ongoing fight to develop the land in Northeast Denver.

Council voted 11 to two, with Chris Herndon, Jamie Torres, Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore, Robin Kniech, Chris Hinds, Debbie Ortega, Amanda Sandoval and Amanda Sawyer in favor, and Candi CdeBaca and Paul Kashmann opposed.

Voters will see the question of whether to lift the easement that protects the land as a golf course on their April municipal election ballot.

If voters decide not to lift the easement, the land will not be developed. Westside could operate it as a golf course or sell it to someone who wants to do something else, including the city. The point is that the easement would remain a sticking point.

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Council also rezoned the area to allow mixed-use development on the 155 acres of Northeast Park Hill. This passed on a nine to four vote, with Black, Clark, Flynn, Gilmore, Herndon, Hinds, Ortega, Kniech and Torres in favor, and CdeBaca, Kashmann, Sandoval and Sawyer voting against.

That decision came after a group of residents failed to force a supermajority vote on City Council by petitioning the city about their opposition to the rezoning. Councilmember CdeBaca also attempted to delay the rezoning vote, but no other members seconded her motion.

The creation of five municipal districts that will fund infrastructure to be built that will sustain the development also got approval in a nine to four vote. The districts will wage taxes on people living in the development.

Black, Clark, Flynn, Gilmore, Herndon, Hinds, Ortega, Kniech and Sawyer voted in favor; CdeBaca, Kashmann, Sandoval and Torres voted against.

City Council also approved a development agreement between the city and the current and future owners that spells out how much park space and affordable housing must be created, who will pay for what, and how construction and infrastructure will work, among other items.

This passed on a 10 to three vote, with CdeBaca, Sandoval and Kashmann voting against it.

In heated public hearings, opponents of the development argued passionately about the need for more open space and parks. Proponents of the project pushed the importance of affordable housing.

"We all agree we need affordable housing," At-Large City Council candidate and development opponent Penfield Tate III said. "I as much as anyone else. But affordable housing shouldn't have to compete with open space, because once we lose it, we will not get it back. We can have both. And we ought to have both."

Others argued the development of the golf course would interfere with bird migration patterns and worsen climate change.

"Once that open space is gone, paved over, it's never coming back," lamented neighborhood resident David Kopel.

Some took issue with the process itself.

"This rezoning proposal puts the cart before the horse," said former long-term Park Hill resident Stephen Good. "If Denver voters again choose open space over development in April, rezoning becomes moot."

Kevin Marchman, former head of the Denver Housing Authority and Northeast Park Hill resident and community leader, has been championing the project along the way.

"We should not let a conservation easement be a barrier to affordable housing that Denver needs and Denver deserves."

"We are faced with a rising cost of living along with high-interest rates," said Azariah Ammishaddai, who is a Habitat for Humanity homeowner from Elyria-Swansea. "Families are struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their head. This is affecting people of various cultures and income levels and it should not have to be this way.

Habitat plans to build housing on the site.

"This development has the potential to serve the community to be stronger by offering a grocery store in what is called a food desert area, as well as more business and job opportunities," Ammishaddai continued. "This vacant land will allow many families like mine the ability to own a home that is not only affordable but brings stability."

"Denver has a housing and homelessness crisis that needs to be addressed right now," said Shareef Aleem, a longtime resident of Northeast Park Hill and a proponent of the development. "Now is the time to address it. We need a grocery store. We need affordable housing. We need economic development over in that neighborhood, so people can not only live in that neighborhood but sustain themselves in that neighborhood."

When the issue comes to voters in April, this is the language they will see:

"What we are being asked to do tonight is to pass this on to the voters and let them make that decision," said At Large Councilmember Debbie Ortega. "The voters will be asked to make that final decision, and if they say no, it will go back to what it is."

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