People in favor of keeping the Park Hill Golf Club property as open space appeared to have scored a victory Tuesday night, as voters were 63 percent to 36.9 percent in favor of Initiative 301 as of 11:30 p.m.
An opposing ballot question backed by the developer that owns the former golf course, Initiative 302, was rejected by Denver voters 62.2 percent to 37.7 percent.
The Denver Elections Division will continue to count ballots for the next few days, with the official vote certified within 17 days.
The main goal of Initiative 301 is to preserve the shuttered golf course as open space. If it passes, Denver must hold a citywide vote on development that is slated for park land and when there’s an effort to cancel a conservation easement.
This would essentially add an additional hurdle to development of the former course.
The political action committee Yes for Parks and Open Space, in favor of Initiative 301, raised about $112,000 with just under $5,000 from in-kind contributions, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
Initiative 302 would essentially exempt the Park Hill property from a vote if Initiative 301 passed. It was spearheaded by Glendale-based Westside Investment Partners, the developer that purchased the property in 2019.
Westside has hosted various meetings with community members and discussed possible plans for developing the course. Although Westside wants to build on the land, the company has said it would keep about 60 of the 155 acres as park space.
Representatives of the political action committee Empower Northeast Denver said in a statement they were “disappointed with the outcome” of Tuesday’s results, but they also intend to work on the issue.
“We respect the outcome of the election,” said Kenneth Ho, a principal at Westside. “We have heard that city residents want to understand more details about what the future of the golf course can be, and we look forward to showing how much better we can do than a defunct golf course for our community, our environment and future generations.”
Empower Northeast Denver, in favor of Initiative 302, raised about $72,000, in addition to $268,000 provided by Westside, according to the latest report.
Conservation easement at heart of questions over land’s future
A six-page conservation easement with Denver requires the 155 acres to be used as an 18-hole golf course. But it could theoretically be overturned by the Denver City Council with the help of a judge.
According to the city, the easement dates to 1997, when the former owner of the land, Clayton Early Learning, needed more money to operate the golf course. The city agreed to pay Clayton $2 million in exchange for use of the land being restricted to a golf course that charged daily fees.
It is the only Denver-owned park land or golf course protected by a conservation easement, according to Parks and Recreation officials.In July 2019, months after the golf course ceased operating, Clayton sold the land to Westside for $24 million.
Through an agreement that same year, the city, wanting to keep control of the use of the land, agreed to pay Westside $6 million in exchange for a new but essentially similar easement.
According to that agreement, Westside has until late 2022 to come up with an alternative plan to the golf course through public outreach. Until then, the city will not enforce the provisions of the easement that require a golf course to operate there.
If Westside can’t convince the city the land should be used for something else, it will be required to restore a golf course and comply with the terms of the easement’s restrictions, according to the agreement.