Former Mayor Wellington Webb Urges Residents To Oppose Developing Park Hill Golf Course Land
By Cara DeGette
Declaring that “no park in Denver is safe” if developers are allowed free rein, former Mayor Wellington Webb is urging Denver residents to contact their council representatives and register opposition to efforts to develop the 155 acres that is currently the site of the Park Hill Golf Course.
Webb’s late June press conference came shortly after a surprise deal surfaced that a development company, Westside Investment Partners, plans to close on a contract for the land on July 11.
“I’m asking residents to send City Council a message to figure out a way to maintain this land as open space,” Webb said.
The land is currently owned by the Clayton Trust, the foundation for the Clayton Early Learning campus west of Park Hill. Clayton leases it to Texas-based Arcis, a corporation that has operated the golf course for many years.
Denver holds a perpetual open space conservation easement on the property – which the city paid $2 million to secure in 1997, when Webb was mayor. Any changes, including developing the property, would require the Denver City Council to approve zoning changes and remove the conservation easement, legal experts say.
Webb’s June 24 press conference also came shortly after this year’s municipal election that was overwhelmingly driven by anti-developer sentiment, resulting in the ouster of three incumbents who were perceived as being too friendly to developers. A group of longtime Park Hill residents highlighted the future of the golf course land as a major issue of the campaign. They have promoted the plan that the land should eventually become a regional park.
The entire city council, Webb said, and Mayor Michael B. Hancock, should heed the voters’ message, that many Denver residents are focused on slowing down what is widely perceived as out-of-control development.
“What I hope to get out is the message to people to contact their city councilmembers and the mayor and tell them you want to save Park Hill,” Webb said. “If we allow this golf course in Park Hill to be sold and redeveloped into a concrete jungle, I believe no park in Denver is safe.”
The press conference, covered by print outlets and local TV stations, took place outside the golf clubhouse at the northwest corner of Park Hill. The golf course is currently closed for a redesign and installation of city stormwater drainage. It’s been the source of much intrigue, political maneuvering and legal wrangling for the past three years.
Several years ago, Clayton Early Learning, wanting to maximize the potential for funding its early education programs, hired the powerful lobbyist group CRL Associates to engage in a series of “visioning” sessions to help determine the future of the land, roughly the size of Washington Park. Among the discussed options: keeping it as open space, developing it for residential and commercial use, or a combination.
In 2017 the Denver City Council nearly voted to purchase the land for $20.5 million, but that deal collapsed when Arcis announced plans to renew its golf course lease for at least five years. Arcis also reminded the city and Clayton that it holds the first right of refusal, should Clayton decide to sell the property.
Fast-forward to June. Immediately after Denver’s municipal runoff election, observers were stunned when yet another land developer, Westside Investment Partners, announced plans to buy the property. As of press time, it was unclear what Westside’s plan would be for the land.
Some who have supported developing at least part of the open space have argued the need for affordable housing and a grocery store. Webb rejected suggestions that the land is ideal for development is a “false choice.” Other areas of the city have already been identified for affordable housing projects, as well as other needed services. Meanwhile, the amount of parkland per capita in Denver has reduced, not grown, in recent years. Webb said he fully supports more affordable housing in Denver. “I’m saying, just don’t do it here,” he said.
“Open space and park space is our most valuable commodity,” he said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. I think we can do better, for our children and our children’s children.”
Webb’s press conference occurred the day after a strongly worded editorial appeared in the Denver Post challenging the current mayor and council to protect the conservation easement and urging Westside to pull out of the deal.
For the past year Park Hill resident Woody Garnsey, his wife Georgia, and other local activists have organized to prevent potential development of the property. Before the May election, Garnsey’s group, Save Open Space Denver, surveyed all candidates. Five who ultimately prevailed in their election bids have pledged support for keeping the land as open space. They include Candi CdeBaca, Chris Hinds, Amanda Sandoval, Amanda Sawyer and Jamie Torres.
Incumbent Chris Herndon, who won re-election and whose district includes Park Hill, did not respond to the survey. Mayor Michael B. Hancock – whose reelection Webb endorsed – declined to respond to the survey, claiming pending litigation prohibited him from taking a position. (All results can be reviewed at the website sosdenver.net.)
Emails and phone numbers for all members of the city council and the mayor can be found at Denvergov.org.