Oct 26, 2021 - News

Fate of Park Hill Golf Course divides Denver's Black leaders

The Park Hill Golf Course in 2018. Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

The future of the Park Hill Golf Course is pitting some of Denver's most influential Black leaders against one another.

Why it matters: The 155-acre space represents the city's last undeveloped land parcel, situated in the heart of a historically underserved, largely Black and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

  • The escalating debate over the land's fate reflects the rising tension between preservation and development as the city grows and its affordable housing crisis deepens.

Context: Denver voters this November will decide between two competing initiatives, Ballot Measures 301 and 302 — both of which aim to outline what's in store for the parcel, which is protected by a conservation easement.

  • Ballot Measure 301 aims to preserve the space as a park by making it harder to build on the golf course. If the measure is passed, voters will have the final say over lifting the land's conservation easements — not the city.
  • Ballot Measure 302, a direct counterattack, would make it easier to pursue plans to build a mixed-use project on the land by changing the definition of conservation easement to exclude the golf course.

State of play: Denver's most distinguished Black leaders are finding themselves on opposite sides on the gentrification issue.

  • In 301's corner stands Wellington Webb, Denver's first Black mayor; and Penfield Tate III, a former Colorado lawmaker.
  • Backing 302 is Denver's NAACP chapter; John Bailey, chair of the Colorado Black Round Table; and City Council member Chris Herndon.
  • Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Hancock refuses to side with either camp, his spokesman tells Axios.

Yes, but: Hancock remains in the campaign's crosshairs. Advocacy group Save Open Space — of which Webb is a member — filed a community lawsuit in June against the mayor, the city and the head of Denver's planning department to prevent development on the golf course.

  • The group claims the Hancock administration is illegally making plans for the property despite being bound by a conservation easement enacted under Webb in 1997, which can only be lifted by a court order.

What to watch: If neither measures pass, nothing changes. But if both pass, they would be "harmonized to the extent possible," Denver Elections Division spokesperson Alton Dillard tells Axios.

  • If any parts of the initiatives are conflicting, the one with more votes will likely be implemented — but that analysis "would be far down the road," Dillard notes.

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