Homeless campsite at Park Hill church survives second board vote

The city-sanctioned homeless campsite at Park Hill United Methodist Church. (BusinessDen file)

An effort to remove a homeless encampment at Park Hill United Methodist Church failed Tuesday as not enough members of a city board voted to approve an appeal.

The Board of Adjustment for Zoning heard arguments last week regarding the authority the city’s zoning administrator had to issue a permit for a temporary managed campsite at the church, 2045 N. Glencoe St.

Residents who appealed tried to convince the board that Denver zoning administrator Tina Axelrad had erred in her decision to grant the temporary zoning permit, particularly because they said it was not a legal use of the church lot and they had concerns about safety.

Some of the board members said Tuesday that they also had concerns about the plans to keep the area safe. The vote was 3-2 to not reject the appeal, but the matter died because appellants needed four votes.

“…(M)y thoughts are the operating agreement doesn’t really enforce the health and safety concerns, especially at the location with the nearby schools,” board member Jim Keavney said.

Board member Penny Elder concurred.

“It just seems to me this was just whipped through the process of checking boxes instead of taking the time to look at not just the health and welfare or the safety of the nearby preschool and homes, but even in the encampment itself,” she said.

It was the second decision in favor of the campsite issued by the board in recent weeks. On July 20, appellants argued more broadly that the zoning administrator didn’t have the authority to permit temporary campsites anywhere in Denver, not just solely in Park Hill. But the board narrowly rejected that argument in a 3-2 vote.

Appellants argued last week that state law prohibits certain businesses, like liquor stores, from operating within 500 feet of places where children are constantly present and that the determination to allow a campsite at the church should be overturned.

There is a preschool that is operated by the church with an entrance on the other side of the building from where the campsite is located. Campsite operators last week told the board that the camp’s residents are not allowed in the church or near the preschool.

Board member Nancy Burkhart defended the health and safety plan submitted with the permit application by Colorado Village Collaborative, which operates the campsite, saying it covered a broad range of issues, but she said she wished the organization had done more outreach with the neighborhood before setting up the site.

There was no discussion from the public or applicants at the Tuesday meeting as testimony had been given the week prior.

Four people filed three appeals that the board had to decide, but they were all related to the Park Hill campsite. The appeals were filed by Leah Capritta, Dave and Ella Rodman, and Kevin Reidy. Several other people were listed as associate appellants in each of the appeals.

Several nearby homeowners filed a lawsuit in May against the Park Hill site, but it was subsequently dismissed by a Denver district court judge because the matter had not gone to the board of adjustment.

Now that it has, the residents could file another lawsuit related to the campsite.

Dave Rodman told BusinessDen it is the appellants’ intent to file another lawsuit, and that they have a 28-day window to do so. Regarding the board’s decision Tuesday, he said he was “disappointed” but “not surprised.”

“It’s kind of a travesty when you have three people agree with you, but because you don’t have four you lose,” Rodman said. “This appeal process is meant to deal with people who put up air conditioners and decks … but this is clearly not meant for this. The process clearly failed and it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Board member Charlie Young said the process should have been dealt with through the City Council, but he voted to reject the appeal.

According to the safety plan submitted by CVC, the organization is expected to always have two staff members on site who are trained in “trauma-informed” care, mediation and de-escalation of conflicts.

When BusinessDen visited the campsite on July 27, a security guard and the site manager were present and there was a locked gate along the fencing surrounding the campsite.

The city-sanctioned homeless campsite at Park Hill United Methodist Church. (BusinessDen…

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