By, Dave Felice
Protestors gathered at the mayoral “Cabinet in the Community” at Harvey Park. Spurred by the controversy over Hentzell, Parks and Recreation proposes to promptly designate 18 properties as parks.
Hentzell approval pending
Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s plan to trade nine acres of Hentzell Park Natural Area in southeast Denver for an office building is expected to go before City Council’s Government and Finance Committee in March as a land transaction.
Hancock wants the building at 1330 Fox, owned by the Denver School District, to be remodeled for services to victims of domestic violence. Benefactor Rose Andom has pledged $1 million to the project. The city expects to spend at least $5 million to renovate the aging building. In exchange, the school district would get the park property.
Opponents argue that trading rare, irreplaceable natural area is wrong, especially since both the city and the school district just got approval for massive tax increases. Despite an 11-to-6 vote by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to retain natural area status for the land, Parks Manager Lauri Dannemiller approved de-designation.
Protest targets Hancock
At the February 9 mayoral meeting at Kunsmiller Academy in Harvey Park, about 30 protestors from all over Denver carried signs and conversed with city officials. Hancock’s young community liaison admonished the mostly older community activists to “be respectful.” The activists said they only intended to convey a message, not to behave inappropriately.
Hancock read a prepared statement about Hentzell Park. One park advocate observed the statement had been “tweaked” to mention the new effort by Dannemiller to have the City Council formally designate many Denver parks. While the Mayor avoided his previous description of Hentzell Park Natural Area as “blighted,” he renewed his pitch that his plan would “activate” this underutilized area.
On Monday following the meeting, Press Secretary Amber Miller, speaking for Mayor Hancock, issued the following statement: “The proposed land swap provides a viable location for an early education center and elementary school in the Hampden Heights neighborhood, where our schools are experiencing significant overcrowding, while allowing the city to deliver a centrally located, easily accessible domestic violence resource center. Further, by building a new school with shared recreational fields on a piece of this land and working to designate the rest as parkland, the city will activate the entire Hentzell Park area in a way that will bring significant value to our community by making it much more useable.
Park designations moving rapidly
In the wake of the Hentzell controversy, Parks and Recreation proposes almost immediate official designation of nine properties, soon followed by nine more. These lands, which everyone considers to be parks, were never fully designated.
In a statement to the Greater Park Hill News, Dannemiller said:
“In 1956, all land in Denver that had been acquired or developed to be used as a park was designated as such by City Charter. This move gave approximately 70 percent of all parkland in the City a designated status. A plan was put in place nearly a decade ago to designate all parks that had been added to the City’s system since 1956. Unfortunately, that process was put on hold by prior Parks and Recreation management for reasons that I am unaware of as they predate my appointment to the Department.
“We are revisiting that process now and plan to have 90 percent of all parks and open space in Denver designated within the next few years. We will immediately move to designate an additional 460 acres this year, bringing the total number of designated acreage to 3,966.”
Section 2.4.5 of the City Charter requires a vote before any park land can be disposed of. Hentzell Park advocates contend the provision should also apply to Natural Areas, sanctioned by a unanimous vote in 2007 by the Parks Advisory Board.
Of 276 properties with park characteristics, 153 are designated. Nine more would be designated in the first round, including Gates Crescent, Green Valley, and Ruby Hill. An additional nine – including Stapleton Central Park and Bear Creek – would be in the second round. There are 31 properties not eligible, 53 candidates for designation, and 21 are partially designated.
Protest over Hentzell continues, Council hard to judge
Park advocates all over Denver still oppose the Hentzell Park trade. Renee Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Shawn Smith (email@example.com) lead the opposition in the immediate Hampden Heights neighborhood. Park supporters say it is critical that everyone contact Mayor Hancock and City Council. Information on how to send a message and addresses are listed at denvernature.net.
Members of Council give little indication of how they might vote. Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann of District 4, where the land is located, endorses the deal. Traditionally, when a matter involves one district, other members are inclined to be supportive. However, critics say this situation affects the whole city. Councilwoman at Large Robin Kneich is known to favor assistance to victims of domestic violence, but has concern about the “process” of the transaction. Other Council members, including those representing Park Hill, still say they are trying to keep an open mind. Council is expected to conduct a “courtesy” public hearing on the Hentzell transaction.
Greater Park Hill parks designated
All parks in the Park Hill community have official designation. They are:
- Ferguson, 0.3 acre, 23rd and Dexter
- Skyland, 8.1 acres, 33rd and Holly
- Martin Luther King Jr., 11.3 acres, 38th and Newport
- City of Axum. 5.1 acres, MLK and Birch
- Fred N. Thomas Memorial, 29.4 acres, 23rd and Quebec
- Thomas Ernest McClain, 0.3 acres, MLK and Quebec
Almost everyone knows Ferguson as Turtle Park. In fact, some people don’t know the official name. Despite its size (1/3 acre) it is one of the most active parks in the system.
For more information on DPW, visit: denvergov.org/publicworks. Contact Dave Felice at firstname.lastname@example.org.