Denver judge dismisses lawsuit to halt city’s planning process for Park Hill golf course

Opponents of efforts to bring commercial and real estate development to the idle Park Hill golf course suffered a setback in court this month when a judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to stop Denver officials from engage in new planning efforts for the property.

The decision comes after these opponents scored a major victory at the polls in November when Ordinance 301 was passed. The measure sets a new, higher bar – voter approval in a nationwide election of the city — which any redevelopment plan for the 155-acre spread in northeast Denver must reach before moving forward.

The lawsuit argued that because the former golf course is subject to a city-owned conservation easement, city staff are leading an ongoing planning effort that could pave the way for the easement to be lifted. and redevelopment of the land was illegal and should be stopped. . The lawsuit was filed in July on behalf of grassroots group Save Open Space Denver. The plaintiffs included former Denver mayor Wellington Webb and former Democratic lawmaker Penfield Tate.

In his decision signed Feb. 10, Denver District Court Judge Ross Buchanan found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, in part because the city and Westside Investment Partners, the developer who purchased the property in 2019, have yet to request the conservation easement be lifted.

The judge ruled that even if Save Open Space Denver had standing, an injunction against the city would still not be appropriate. This is partly because there is another legal option available to them, which is the 301 order.

“So it appears that under the newly passed order there is another remedy available separate from an order of this court, and that is to put the question to voters in an election municipal,” Buchanan wrote.

In a statement on Wednesday, members of Save Open Space expressed disappointment with Buchanan’s decision, but also celebrated some of the language included by the judge. Specifically, the group pointed out that Buchanan acknowledged that the changes to the 2019 version of the conservation easement “significantly restrict the grounds upon which a conservation easement may be terminated, released, extinguished or abandoned…”

Tate, in Wednesday’s statement, took issue with the idea that his group is committing to seeing the property remain a golf course in perpetuity. Instead, Save Open Space Denver “fights to preserve the land in accordance with the open space and recreation conservation goals of the conservation easement,” he said.

City Attorney Kristin Bronson, in a statement also released Wednesday, focused on recent goals for golf course ownership that have arisen from the city’s planning effort. This process produced a vision for a new mixed-use neighborhood on the land with housing, commercial space and a large public park.

“Narrowly focused organizations claiming to represent the community are no substitute for the city’s broad, expansive, and equitable community outreach effort,” Bronson said in his statement.

In January this year, the Save Open Space group lambasted the city for denying the group a dedicated representative on the community steering committee to help lead the course planning process. The group had a representative, but when that person said they could no longer serve, the city refused to accept a replacement, officials said.

The decision was further proof that the city is run by developers, Save Open Space said in a press release at the time.

Planning Department spokeswoman Laura Swartz said Wednesday that Shanta Harrison, who serves on the committee as a representative for the greater Park Hill neighborhood, is also a member of Save Open Space Denver. The city determined the group was a poor fit for the committee now that it’s clear the community’s vision for the property is to foster mixed-use development there, Swartz said.

Louisa R. Loomis