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Opinion: Green Space Should Not Be A Card Game

Mapping The Future Of Park Hill Golf Course

By Georgia Garnsey, Special to the GPHN

I’ve served on the Park Hill Golf Course Citizen’s Advisory Committee over the past year representing the parks advocacy group City Park Friends and Neighbors. Other members of the committee include residents from around the Park Hill Golf Course, from Park Hill and Elyria-Swansea. There are representatives from registered neighborhood organizations, ministers, and our city councilman Chris Herndon. It’s a diverse group. Charlotte Brantley, the president of Clayton Early Learning Center, leads all the meetings.

Clayton is a nonprofit serving children up to 5 years of age and especially children who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford such a rich educational experience. Clayton is a wonderful institution worthy of the community’s support, and the community has supported it. Clayton’s major source of revenue is state and federal grants.

Clayton started the “visioning process” with our committee because the current golf course operator will not renew its lease when it expires on Dec. 31, 2018.  Brantley stated that Clayton needed to receive $24 million for the golf course, which they own as part of Mr. Clayton’s initial bequest in 1900.  Currently, the PHGC land is effectively subject to a conservation easement through 2099 that ensures the land is used only for the Golf Course and related activities. The city paid the trust $2 million in 1997 for the conservation easement.

The Ball and Bucket game

In addition, Clayton determined, with the help of research by Kim Kucera, VP of the Denver public policy firm CRL Associates, that continuing the golf course with a new operator was unfeasible. The visioning process included exploration of the different uses the golf course land could be put to, like low income housing, high density development, a grocery store, shopping areas, areas for nonprofits’ headquarters, and park land.

Those of us fighting for more green space in our already densifying part of town, felt that our views were heard but not supported to the degree we would have liked. At one point we were asked to play a game, the Ball and Bucket Land Game, designed just for the committee, where cards representing green space were given “low value,” and high density development was given “high value.”

It was impossible to reach $24 million (the game’s goal) with the cards provided without providing for some substantial development. You could not make up enough “low value” park cards to reach the goal of preserving the 155 acres of land as open space.

This game is the best way I can explain my frustration as a park and open space advocate in a climate where development is so desired for its monetary power.

The second community meeting, on August 10, was also dedicated to playing the Ball and Bucket Land Game. Clayton also put out a survey that was responded to by 700+ neighbors of the Park Hill Golf Course, asking for their use preferences for the land. The majority responded that their top preference was open space, and secondly, recreation.

Devil in the details

The news that the city would buy the golf course came to the Citizen’s Advisory Committee after it was announced to the press on Sept. 21. Many of us had urged the city to purchase the 155 acres and dedicate it as open space for the public’s use, instead of emphasizing development of the area.

The neighborhoods advocacy group INC issued a resolution in March requesting that the PHGC be purchased by the city for open space, and sent the resolution to all city council members. So, we were all glad to hear of this basic, positive move by the city. But the devil is in the details.

At community meeting number three on Sept. 21, city officials, including DPR Director, Happy Haynes, and Charlotte Brantley announced that the city would pay $10 million for 80 acres of the golf course, which would include the 25-acre detention pond the city intends to install for storm water protection.

Then, the city explained that it will also make annual payments of $350,000 for 30 years to Clayton that will get the city the remaining 75 acres of the golf course.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, many residents who live by the golf course and in particular near where the detention pond will be installed, expressed concern about what the pond would look like. It was asked if there had been an environmental study done of the impact of the pond on the area and the answer was no.

It was also asked if there had been traffic studies performed on what would happen to already harrowing Colorado Boulevard with major or limited development of the 155 acres. There is already transit-oriented development slated for this area.

All theses issues are as yet unexplored.

An amazing opportunity

At the Sept. 21 community meeting, a city official spoke of how you don’t get a chance to find so much land in one piece for development. I fear this is the prevailing view with the city and Clayton as well, though I don’t in any way want to portray this institution as anything but honorable and valuable. They just need money for their kids.  The truth is Clayton could receive the money they need and the taxpaying public could get 155 acres of open space – if the city agreed.

I view this as an amazing opportunity to provide a huge hunk of green space for our part of town. If citizens want the PHGC to retain major or more than nominal open space for these 155 acres of trees and green, sloping landscapes, they will need to make themselves heard and apply as much political pressure as possible.

Georgia Garnsey has lived in the same house in Park Hill for 45 years. She is a freelance writer and the author of three books with Colorado themes.

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