Bottom Line: Westside Investment Partners – With Denver’s Help – Is Trying To Undo The Will Of The People
By Gary Martyn
For the GPHN
In 1989, Denver voters, even though slogging through a weak economy, enthusiastically voted for Denver’s future. Voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to fund the start of a new airport. This had tremendous ramifications for Park Hill. Folks were worn out having jets flying low over 26th Avenue at all hours of the day. Mayor Federico Peña was ecstatic at the vote, as he hoped that the new airport would be the economic stimulus that the city needed.
Another part of this voter optimism was voting to set aside $2 million to buy the Park Hill Golf Course and save this large open space from being developed. Sadly, a purchase could not be realized, but later the city, under the direction of Mayor Wellington Webb, arranged to buy a conservation easement on the property to prevent development. Denver officials went through a process to determine development rights, and was able to pay Clayton College for the easement. The city’s agreement with Clayton allowed the early learning center a way to continue its operations and generate revenue from the land. The city also gave themselves an escape valve to drop the easement.
Fast forward to 2019. A developer purchased the land from Clayton — knowing that the city had a conservation easement on the land and development would not be possible. The company, Westside Investment Partners, has pushed and pushed to go after the escape valve the city has to step away from the easement.
In my opinion, while this is a legal thing to do, it is not in the spirit of the easement. I believe the city had this escape clause to be able to void the easement in case of an unusual situation. I don’t think helping a developer’s bottom line falls into that category.
If you peel all of the layers away, what you are left with is a developer trying to undo the will of the citizenry. Well over 60 percent of the voters voted just last year for this land to be kept open. Subsequent focus groups, studies, prevailing visions (whatever they are), slick advertising, and fancy new plans all have nothing to do with this. The fact is the developer is trying to exert their will over the people of Denver to essentially void an election. This is wrong. And, the city should look at itself and ask why they are abetting this process.
Whether you are for or against this proposed development, there is one thing that, as a Denver taxpayer, should make you really angry. The city went to great lengths to pay Clayton College the market rate for development rights for the Park Hill Golf Course. In 1997, those rights were worth $2 million and we taxpayers paid. Now, the city is assisting the developer with plans to develop the land and no mention has been made of the developer paying the city for those development rights. The city, apparently, wants to just give away one of our assets. Give away. Why?
Three months ago, 30 acres of land on 38th Avenue and Brighton Boulevard sold for $158 million. Think about that. The Park Hill Golf Course property is over five times that size. Development rights must be worth a hundred million or more. Probably much more. Why hasn’t the city, if they are hell bent on developing this land, gotten an evaluation done to see what the development rights are worth?
My hope is that the conservation easement stands. But, if our city leaders actually allow development to happen, why are we giving this asset away? Helping the developer has been shameful. Giving this asset away is irresponsible.
Gary Martyn grew up in Park Hill, and still lives in the neighborhood.