Colorado Politics, Hannah Metzger
Two competing ballot measures regarding the potential redevelopment of Denver’s Park Hill Golf Course will appear on the November ballot, according to the Clerk and Recorder Office.
The office announced the new measure, led by the Empower Northeast Denver campaign, received enough valid signatures Tuesday. The existing measure, led by Save Open Space Denver, was approved in late June.
This new measure directly targets Save Open Space’s measure and would effectively cancel it out if both pass, officials said.
The Save Open Space measure would require a citywide vote before conservation easements that prevent land development can be lifted, including the one on the golf course. The Empower Northeast Denver measure would change the legal definition of a conservation easement to exempt the Park Hill Golf Course.
Supporters of the Empower Northeast Denver measure say requiring a citywide vote to lift the golf course’s conservation easement would drown out the voices of residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the golf course.
“This community has been disenfranchised for decades, and now people who do not live here are trying to allow the whole city to decide what’s best for us,” said Terrell Curtis with Empower Northeast Denver. “We shouldn’t let Cherry Creek residents decide what communities in Five Points need and vice versa.”
The redevelopment of the 155-acre site has been a contentious issue since the golf course closed in 2018. The community has debated on what to do with the land, including whether to restore the golf course, designate it as open space or turn it into housing and retail.
The developer that purchased the golf course in 2019, Westside Investment Partners Inc., has said it wants to pursue mixed-use development. Westside financially backed the Empower Northeast Denver measure.
A city-conducted survey released in May found that around 80% of respondents also want the land to have a mix of uses. The most popular uses ranked in respondents’ top three included a grocery store (85% of respondents), a park with athletic fields (73%) and affordable housing (67%).
In contrast, Save Open Space is advocating for the land to be turned into a city park exclusively. Supporters of the Save Open Space measure point to the rarity of open space in Denver.
According to the city’s website, approximately 5,000 acres of Denver are parks and parkways. That accounts for only 5% of Denver’s 155-square-mile area.
“Ensuring protection for park land and open space in this city is something that every citizen should have a voice in,” said Penfield Tate, leader of the Save Open Space campaign. “There is a very clear choice for Denver voters, green space versus concrete and asphalt.”
The language of the Save Open Space measure prohibits commercial or residential development on land designated as a city park or under a conservation easement, except for the purpose of creating a new park. This would allow the golf course to be turned into a park like Save Open Space Denver wants.
However, if both measures pass, nothing would change and the potential lifting of the golf course’s conservation easement would still be left up to the Denver City Council instead of the city’s voters.
The Empower Northeast Denver measure uses the same wording as Save Open Space’s, a strategy intended to “sow confusion among the voters,” said Lisa Calderon, chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, in a release about the ballot initiative last month.
Westside’s legal counsel Thomas Rogers addressed the similarity during a meeting on June 4, saying the initiatives are “identical” besides one addition: “Theirs would apply to, we believe, exactly one property — the Park Hill Golf Course — while ours would apply to no properties at all.”