Golf. That’s what the conservation easement on the long-dormant Park Hill Golf Club property in northeast Denver says the land must primarily be used for, 18 holes of it.
After roughly 60% of Denver voters this week rejected Referred Question 2O, the most recent attempt by the developers that own the 155-acre property to lift the easement and build housing, retail space and a regional park there, those developers say golf is what Denverites can expect.
“Because the Park Hill easement is unambiguous, the land will return to a privately-owned, regulation-length 18-hole golf course,” read a concession statement from the Yes on 2O campaign on Tuesday night. “The site will immediately be closed to public use or access, with no housing, community grocery store, or public parks allowed on this site, in accordance with the will of the voters.”
The timeline for new tee times is unclear.
Westside Investment Partners, which co-owns the property with the Holleran Group, are now spending time diving into the document that has vexed them since they bought the land four year ago, said Bill Rigler, spokesman for the Yes on 2O campaign.
“Westside will be spending the next several weeks looking more closely at the conservation easement to determine what is allowable and what is not and will announce their next steps once they’ve done that,” Rigler said. “Truthfully, it’s a scenario they did not think would happen.”
Per the terms of a development agreement that the owners struck with the city before voters had their say on 2O, Westside and its partners will have 90 days after the election results are certified on April 20 to file to have the property rezoned back to private park space.
Once the happens, the easement does allow for other uses that are “accessory and incidental” to a golf course like a clubhouse, driving range, tennis courts or ballfields so long as they don’t interfere with golf operations.
The size and scale of those potential other uses aren’t laid out in the easement but City Councilwoman Robin Kniech said clarity can be found in the city’s zoning code, specifically the section detailing rules for “open space conservation districts.”
Based on her reading of that code, the land could not support a Topgolf. Supporters of 2O had recently floated the idea of bringing a location of the high-tech driving ranges that offer food and alcohol to the property if the measure went down. Rigler told The Denver Post a Topgolf would be a permitted use under the easement.
Many opponents viewed the Topgolf suggestion as a threat ahead of Election Day. Even if the developers were to pursue that idea, Kniech is skeptical the land has room enough for a golf course and the parking the zoning code would require for a Topgolf.
Kniech has driven much of the City Council’s housing policy work as an at-large member for the last 12 years. But she is term limited and will leave office in July making it unlikely she would vote on whatever rezoning requests come next for the Park Hill land.
“I wonder how the voters will feel a year from now; whether they will regret their decision or whether the creative alternatives they hope are waiting in the wings will come to fruition,” Kniech said of 2O’s defeat. “Only time will tell.”
The coalition of voters who opposed Westside’s plan crossed ideological lines. Both the Denver Republican Party and the Denver chapter of the Democratic Socialist of America came out against the measure.
In a statement posted to its Twitter account, the DSA group talked about their hopes for a better deal that would bring socially-owned housing to the land.
“Denver has the capacity to deny this plan, and in the future acquire the land from the developer and begin a development plan that is actually community-centered,” the statement read.
Bu a significant segment of No voters aren’t interested in housing at all. They want the entirety of the land to become public park space.
Harry Doby lives next to the golf course and has been deeply involved in the No on 2O campaign and other measures aimed at halting planning and development efforts for the land. That included supporting Initiated Ordinance 301 which voters approved in November 2021. That measure dictates that lifting the easement requires approval in a citywide vote.
When asked if city officials should pursue a new deal for housing on the land, Doby said: “No. Of course not. The issue of the conservation easement is settled. The voters of Denver have clearly spoken twice now in the last two years and they want to preserve the easement and keep it as green space.”
Doby doesn’t golf. He also doesn’t expect Westside to ever reopen the property as a golf course, positing that restoring the land and operating a course would be a money-losing effort. He wants the city to use revenues collected through its dedicated parks and open space sales tax to acquire the land and turn it into a park.
He and other opponents of development have suggested the property can be had for $5 million, $19 million less than what Westside paid for it in 2019.
“It’s of no use for a developer so it will not sell for a developer’s price,” he said.
Asked if Westside would explore selling the land, Rigler on Wednesday said there has been no indication of that.
One thing is certain for the Park Hill land: there will be no housing built there for the foreseeable future. Likewise for a grocery store or other retail or commercial space.
For supporters of the development vision Westside laid out, that’s a reason to mourn.
“I’m just so disappointed. I really am,” said Anna DeWitt, a leading member of YIMBY Denver, one of the groups that backed 2O.
YIMBY stands for yes in my backyard. YIMBY Denver advocates for greatly increasing housing density and development throughout Denver. The plan riding on 2O passing called for the creation of as many as 3,200 new housing units, 25% of which would have been income restricted to making them more afforable per the terms of the development agreement.
For DeWitt, a former teacher who now works with housing developers seeking to build small, multi-family projects, 2O’s failure raises larger concerns. Those include the possibility of continued falling enrollment for public schools in Denver as more families are priced out and more negative environmental impacts from people who can’t afford to live in city but have to commute for work.
Based on the results for 2O and Ordinance 301, which Westside sought to circumvent with their own competing measure that was soundly defeated in the same election, DeWitt doesn’t think voters will ever approve something proposed by the company.
“So many times this has failed despite neighborhood support,” she said. “We’ve already waited all this time.”
Her hopes also hinge on the potential for the city to buy the land, but in her ideal scenario, Denver would then rezone it for housing and sell it to the highest bidder willing to develop that housing.
In the short term, she also is not looking forward to the prospect of a golf course walking distance from a commuter rail stop. If a Topgolf is built she might check it out.
She hopes opponents who talked about a better deal pay attention to the property over the next decade.
“What did your vote cost the city? What did your vote cost the children?” she said.
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