I’m writing in response to the opinion piece written by DU political science assistant professor Michael Greenberger titled “It might actually be the NIMBYs” and published Oct. 13 on The Colorado Sun opinion page. The piece purports to discuss why Denver voters on April 4 overwhelmingly defeated Referred Question 2O with 59% against it.
Supported by the then-Mayor Michael Hancock administration and developer Westside Investment Partners, Question 2O asked voters to support breaking the city-owned conservation easement that protects the Park Hill Golf Course land from development and opening the land to significant mixed commercial and residential development.
The assistant professor wrote that he analyzed “precinct-level vote totals” and “paired them with demographic information.” He first concluded that “homeownership was overwhelmingly associated with opposition to Question 2O.” Then — despite saying that “the data available don’t allow for an analysis of what voters believed” and despite the fact that Question 2O was defeated in the vast majority of precincts throughout the city — he mysteriously jumped to the conclusion that “it might actually be NIMBYs” who defeated Question 2O.
It is a disservice to try to suggest why voters overwhelmingly defeated Referred Question 2O without discussing the following critical facts that were presented to voters as they made their decision:
- The PHGC land is protected from development by its city-owned conservation easement which is governed by the Colorado conservation easement statute. The conservation easement’s conservation purposes are open space and recreation.
- Part of the statute requires that a conservation easement cannot be terminated, released, extinguished, or abandoned without a court order that — based on changed conditions on or surrounding the land — it has become “impossible” to continue fulfilling the easement’s conservation purposes. As to the PHGC land, there are no such changed conditions that would now make it “impossible” to continue fulfilling the open space and recreational conservation purposes of the conservation easement.
- A “yes” vote would constitute approval of breaking the conservation easement and opening the PHGC land to 55 acres of dense mixed-use residential and commercial real estate development including significant multi-story buildings as high as 12 stories comprised of some commercial space and mostly market-rate housing with some “affordable housing” thrown in.
- Breaking the conservation easement would constitute a multi-million dollar boondoggle gift from the city and its citizens to the developer. The amount of the gift would be the difference between the fair market value of the land as encumbered by the conservation easement and the fair market value of the land without the conservation easement encumbrance. Such a gift would be not only bad public policy but also a violation of Article XI of the Colorado Constitution, which prohibits gifts from public entities to private parties.
- Denver voters citywide have a legitimate vested interest in preserving the unique city-owned conservation easement asset, which is increasingly invaluable in light of climate change and the city’s dramatic population growth.
- Significant land is available for residential and commercial development near the PHGC land, including 6.5 acres owned by the Urban Land Conservancy just north of the land and at least 36 acres that have been assembled by two development groups west of Colorado Boulevard and around the 40th and Colorado A-Line station. The Urban Land Conservancy is in the process of contracting with a developer to build significant income restricted housing on its nearby land. Housing, including affordable housing, should and could be constructed on this available land outside the boundaries of the PHGC land and the unique protected 155 acres of the PHGC land should be preserved for the open space and recreational needs of the surrounding neighborhoods and all of Denver.
- In 2021, a city-commissioned study determined that the neighborhoods adjacent to the PHGC land need 183.5 acres of new park land to reach the targeted national average of park land per capita.
Denver voters have voted three times citywide to overwhelmingly reject breaking the conservation easement and opening the land to this type of development. In 2021, they passed the citizens’ Initiated Ordinance 301 and defeated the developer’s competing Initiated Ordinance 302; and, in 2023, they defeated Question 20. Their votes reflect that they carefully paid attention to the facts — not that they were NIMBYs.
It’s now time for the city to acquire the PHGC land for a fabulous new regional park paying the fair market value of the land as encumbered by its conservation easement.
Woody Garnsey, a Denver native and resident, is a retired attorney and a member of the grassroots citizen group Save Open Space Denver.
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