Park Hill Golf Course a lesson: What happens when cities and counties hesitate

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 8/14/19

As golf courses go, the Park Hill Golf Course at 35th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver is nothing special. First of all, it is flat — with little imagination used in its design, layout, …

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Park Hill Golf Course a lesson: What happens when cities and counties hesitate

Posted

As golf courses go, the Park Hill Golf Course at 35th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver is nothing special. First of all, it is flat — with little imagination used in its design, layout, hazards and character.

All the same, it is 155 acres of strategic open space in the City and County of Denver. That’s what makes it special.

You might have recently followed the saga involving the sale of this land to a developer and you might recall that the City and County attempted to purchase the property but failed.

But it is important to note that Denver had previously purchased a conservation easement on the property at a cost of $2 million, which basically says the property must remain as a golf course or related uses. Only the Denver City Council can remove the easement and allow private development on the subject land.

Now a developer is betting he can cut a deal with the city council and open up a portion of the land for apartments and other development. Having paid $24 million for the site, you have to believe he has some kind of assurance that the easement will be removed. Did I mention he contributed to Mayor Hancock’s re-election campaign?

It could be a huge missed opportunity

If the Denver City Council does allow private development on the golf course parcel, it will have been a huge missed opportunity for Denver citizens while providing little relief from the continuing residential densification in Denver. The Denver City Council should have purchased the land to preserve it, to keep it as a golf course or as open space — or a combination of open space and limited development.

So, there is a good lesson here for all cities and counties in the Denver metro area to heed: Don’t hesitate.

Ideally, local governments usually have some type of an open space program to let them purchase land to maintain green spaces and preserve vistas or to strategically locate sites — including historic sites — or to simply prevent development.

Assuming there is such a program in place, then a local government must to be aggressive in acquiring parcels that fit those criteria. And when a parcel comes on the market, staff should be knocking on the door first to attempt to secure the desired parcel.

So much development with limited resources

In my opinion, the pace and volume of new residential development is beyond being reasonable in the metro area — including the northwest suburban area.

It is beyond being healthy from the standpoint of available qualified construction personnel, increased traffic, accelerating using up available water and wastewater treatment capacities and especially water resources. It is affecting our quality of life.

Residents are complaining and talking about it, but I don’t see action among city councils and boards of county commissioners to calm it down.

You know folks; there will be development opportunities for cities and counties to grow in the future, year in and year out. Sure, there will be peaks and valleys in the demand cycle, but communities (and local governments) are here to stay.

As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” So, why do we need to let so much get crammed in during a relative short period of time?

Basic ways to slow residential growth

Basically, there are three ways to manage growth to a slower, more methodical pace.

First, you can adjust the local comprehensive plan to reduce the number of zoned higher residential parcels. The city councils and boards of county commissioners have the power to do this.

Secondly, local governments can purchase some of the higher density zoned parcels to retain as open space. This is a balancing act to allow some new development each year. City councils and boards of county commissioners have the power to do this, assuming they have funds to implement the strategy.

Finally, development pacing plans — often referred to as growth controls — can be used to set the pace and volume of new residential development which the community will accept.

These plans work. Westminster’s previous growth management plan was tested in court on three occasions and found legal. The courts validated that city councils and boards of county commissioners have the legal authority to establish and enforce such types of development pacing.

However, look around and ask how many of the cities and two counties I mentioned have done any of the three options? The answer is NONE.

Local candidates need to be held accountable

Most of the suburban municipalities will have elections in November to select some mayors and a bunch of city council members. I think we want to be asking all candidates — but especially the incumbent candidates — about growth.

For example, what is their stance on the amount and pace of growth in your community? Why do they believe their stance is best for the community and is it in aligned with the community’s thinking?

Also, ask them about the three options I outlined. If the local government doesn’t have an open space program or a dedicated revenue stream to purchase land to be preserved, ask them where they stand on pursuing such a program and/or tax.

It’s too late for this November’s ballot, but like I said, the local governments will be here for a long, long time.

Don’t you think setting aside land at a fair price is a prudent thing to do for the future quality of life for you and fellow residents?

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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