Denver Planning Board votes to move process along despite conservation easement on northeast Denver property
PUBLISHED: October 20, 2022 at 6:30 a.m. | UPDATED: October 20, 2022 at 2:25 p.m.
A guiding plan for potential redevelopment of the Park Hill golf course and new zoning for that property inched closer to reality on Wednesday night when the Denver Planning Board voted to pass them on to the City Council for consideration.
A long road remains between the dormant links and the bustling, mixed-use, micro-neighborhood the developers that own the 155-acre patch of green space and their supporters envision.
Even if the city-authored small area plan for the property and the rezoning application are adopted and approved by the City Council, the land remains under a conservation easement. Denver voters must give the go-ahead for that easement to be lifted.
Those hurdles didn’t dissuade dozens of Denverites from speaking in favor of converting the property into housing, commercial space and a regional park as outlined in the small area plan.
The Northeast Park Hill neighborhood around the golf course has suffered from “targeted under-development” for years, Samie Burnett, who lives just a few blocks from the golf course, told the planning board Wednesday. She wants to see jobs and business opportunities in a part of Denver that city data show remains predominantly Black and lower income than nearby areas. That means more development, not 155 acres of permanent parks and open space as development opponents are proposing.
“This might be our sole opportunity to reverse that and keep our tax dollars circulating in our community,” Burnett said.
“We don’t have a parks crisis, we have an affordable housing crisis,” added Kevin Marchman, president of Northeast Park Hill Coalition.
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The 40-page small area plan was crafted after a more than 18-month public engagement process that included the creation of a 27-member steering committee, surveys of households within a mile of the property and one-on-one conversations with 133 people from underrepresented groups, according to the city.
The result is a plan that recommends a variety of housing types on the property including for-sale housing affordable to people making between 70 and 120% of the area median income, subsidized low-income housing for people making between 30 and 80% of the area average and rental housing for seniors with incomes below average.
Kenneth Ho, a principal with Westside Investment Partners, which bought the defunct golf course for $24 million in 2019, told the planning board on Wednesday that the property could eventually add 2,500 to 3,200 housing units to the neighborhood. Of those, 25% would be permanently income-restricted, affordable housing, well beyond the city’s baseline requirements.
Westside and its partners on the golf course property, the Holleran Group, are being sued over a lease agreement for the course’s former clubhouse.
The draft plan would also deliver on Westside’s commitment to dedicate 100 acres of the property as parks and open space. That number includes an existing 25-acre stormwater retention area that Westside hopes to upgrade to make it more accessible to visitors.
More than 90 people signed up to speak either in person or online as part of the small area plan hearing, though not all of them up responded when their names were called. Supporters were the heavy majority but opponents also turned out to speak against the plan and companion rezoning application.
Amy Harris is a part of the leadership for the Greater Park Hill Community organization. That group recently adopted a resolution unanimously opposing both the plan and the rezoning. Harris argued the plan doesn’t take into account the traffic impacts on people who already live in the area should homes and business space be built there.
“The very last place that you should be putting any development on is the last large parcel of open, green space in our city and a property that is subject to a conservation easement,” she said, decrying the planning process as unfair.
Woody Garnsey is a long-time Park Hill resident and was part of the Save Open Space Denver group that got Initiated Ordinance 301 passed last year, strengthening the conservation easement by giving Denver voters say on if it will be lifted. He argued Wednesday that the planning board voting on the plan would be illegal under the state’s conservation easement statute, an argument a representative from the city attorney’s office rejected.
The board ultimately voted unanimously to approve passing the small area plan on to the City Council. The plan will have to go through a committee process before being heard by the whole council.
The plan calls for buildings ranging from four to 12 stories on the western half of the golf course along Colorado Boulevard. The rezoning application would apply the proper zoning to the property to allow for that to happen while maintaining the eastern portion as park space. The planning board also voted unanimously to recommend that City Council approve the rezoning application but only on the condition it has already approved the small area plan.
“I am really excited to say yes to this,” planning board member Angelle Fouther said. “I think that it is an opportunity to provide something for everyone.”
Updated Sept. 20, at 2:00 p.m. This story was updated to include more specific projections of how many housing units could be built on the golf course property that Kenneth Ho shared with the planning board.