Denver’s Park Hill golf course development plans released

The plans won’t be before Denver voters this November but the developers that own the former Park Hill Golf Club last week released new details about their aims to build thousands of homes and commercial space on the property.

Westside Investment Partners and the Holleran Group, the two companies seeking to redevelop the 155-acre former golf course located at the northeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and East 35th Avenue, welcomed more than 300 people to the long-dormant course’s clubhouse last week for an open house looking at refined plans, representatives said.

The developers shared a series of design drawings showing a plaza ringed with trees abutting three-story buildings. They also shared a map — stamped with the word “conceptual” — that shows blocks of new development hugging Colorado Boulevard on the west side of the property and then a large park with sports fields, picnic areas, a water feature and more on the eastern side.

At the corner of 35th and Colorado, one block is marked “grocery store.”

The materials are available for review on the development team’s new website, yesforparksandhomes.com.

Conceptual is a key word at this stage of the development process. While city-led planning efforts for the property have created a vision that calls for mixed-use development including housing, business space and a grocery store, the property is still subject to a taxpayer-purchased conservation easement that puts strict limits on what can be built there. In short, nothing can be added that would interfere with the operation of a regulation-length 18-hole golf course, per the easement.

Last November, voters passed a ballot measure that mandated that lifting the conservation easement would first need to come back to voters from across the city for approval. They also rejected a competing ballot measure, backed by Westside and partners, that would have exempted the golf course from that higher bar of approval.

Westside and partners are looking at 2023 for a return to the ballot but in the meantime are carrying through long-term planning efforts in concert with the city, company executive Kenneth Ho said on Monday.

“While they’re conceptual, we really wanted to give folks a sense of what this property can be,” Ho said of the latest renderings and map. “We really want to emphasize that this is in line with that community desires; a regionally sized park and housing to combat the housing crisis.”

According to the developers’ most recent presentation, the property could host hundreds of new homes, nearly 25% of which would be set aside a permanently affordable. That is roughly twice as high as the 12% income-restricted units the city’s new affordable housing mandate would require in a typical market like the Park Hill neighborhood.

Ho projected developers could build between 2,000 and 3,700 homes on the property over the next 10 to 15 years. The team is already in talks with established affordable housing developers including Habitat for Humanity and Brothers Redevelopment.

“The affordable units will be heavily weighted to family sized and deeply affordable,” Ho said.

Nearly half of income-restricted units would be for sale, he said, in efforts to provide more so-called “missing middle” housing in Denver for working-class people who are stuck renting but unable to save enough to buy.

All plans at this stage can be viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism. The ballot measure that put the new higher bar on the redevelopment of the property passed by a 2-1 margin last year while the competing measure Westside put forward failed by a similar margin.

Save Open Space Denver, the group that backed the conservation easement-strengthening ballot measure last year and has been duking it out with the developers and the city in court and the arena of public opinion, put out its own vision for the site as one expansive park and open space area this year. That vision is also conceptual given the property is owned by the developers.

“We’re not proposing that this is what it ought it be. We’re asking people for their feedback,” said Penfield Tate III, one of the leaders of Save Open Space Denver and a potential mayoral candidate in 2023.

The group’s colorful map, which includes everything from a skate park to a ziggurat on the property, is connected to a survey on the website yesopenspace.org.

Tate attended the developers’ open house last week and is skeptical they can deliver on all the affordable housing they are talking about at this point. He remains critical of the entire planning process which he said he been unfairly weighted in the developers’ favor since the beginning.

“Quite frankly, it’s all pie in the sky. Nothing is binding,” Tate said of Westside’s latest materials. “We think our map is true to the requirements and the parameters of the conservation easement and we’re going to continue to share that with people.”

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