Denver moves forward with Park Hill Golf Course planning process

A month after voters placed a major roadblock in front of the possible development of the Park Hill golf course, the city of Denver released a vision for the property, which is owned by Westside Investment Partners.

“It is gratifying to know that Park Hill residents and participants in this process have prioritized parks and substantial open spaces as part of a shared vision for this site. This community validation reinforces the importance of parks and open spaces quality open spaces as part of the reimagining of this site, which has been driving this process from the beginning,” said Happy Haynes, executive director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, in a statement accompanying the release of the vision. “We look forward to participating with other city agencies and the community in the next phase of the process to move this vision forward.”

In addition to asking for parks and open spaces, residents of Park Hill – whose views have been gathered “through surveys, feedback forms, workshops and public events, small groups and conversations with community navigators and a community steering committee that met monthly, according to the city — also want to see affordable housing, a grocery store, space for local businesses, and an expanded canopy on the property.

“We spoke with hundreds of people before the visualization process began,” says Kenneth Ho of Westside. “We believe the report reflects the many comments received by the city.” Westside has already pledged to preserve at least sixty acres of open space on the 155-acre property, where it wants to build a mixed-use development.

There is currently a conservation easement on the Park Hill Golf Course property which prevents further development. Until this last election, Westside expected the Denver City Council to eventually vote to lift the easement. However, voters approved an initiative placed on the ballot by advocacy organization Save Open Space Denver – which wants to block development on the golf course in hopes it eventually becomes a city park – which requires a city-wide vote to lift the easement. At the same time, voters rejected a defensive ballot measure pushed by Westside that would have exempted the golf course property from the provisions of the Save Open Space Denver initiative if passed.

“This unfortunately dilutes the voice of a historically marginalized and diverse local community,” Ho says of the Save Open Space Denver requirement. “We understand this is another step in the process and we look forward to going into the details of the master plan with the city and the community in the future.”

But Save Open Space Denver, which counts former mayor Wellington Webb and former state legislator and mayoral candidate Penfield Tate among its members, is already crying foul over the city’s vision for the property, saying that Denver has only been interested in producing a vision that favors the developer. “The city’s bias toward development is just becoming disturbing,” says Tate. “It is the will of the people. They have spoken now.”

There is still an ongoing debate between Save Open Space Denver on one side and the City of Denver and Westside on the other side about what is allowed under the current conservation easement. Save Open Space Denver argues that it allows general open space uses of the property, which would give the city a pathway to turn the golf course into a park without lifting the easement. But the Denver City Attorney’s Office and Westside interpret the easement as requiring the primary use of the land to be for an eighteen-hole golf course. The Park Hill golf course has been gone for years.

In 2022, the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development will work to develop an area plan for the property. Eventually, the Denver City Council will have the chance to vote on this plan — and whether or not to put it back on the ballot that could lift the easement and allow development to move forward.

Louisa R. Loomis