Judge allows storm-water drainage project at City Park Golf Course to proceed

Suit challenging project struck down
Posted at 2:13 PM, Oct 26, 2017

DENVER – A Denver District Court judge on Thursday denied a request for a permanent injunction from a group of Denver residents that could have halted the city’s plans to shutter the course for more than a year while it undergoes improvements and while a storm-water drainage renovation is completed.

Former Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane filed the lawsuit last summer, and several residents and Councilman Rafael Espinoza signed on to join the suit.

They had argued that the golf course renovations, which are part of the city’s Platte to Park Hill program the city aims to reduce flood risks in northern Denver, saying the city was trying to use land for purposes it wasn’t intended for, and that the project was actually tied in with the Central 70 rebuilding project.

Denver denied that, saying while the drainage project would help with the Central 70 project, it wasn’t the primary goal.

“If I-70 didn’t happen we would still move forward with this project,” Denver Public Works’  Angela Casias told Denver7 earlier this year.

But Espinoza, who represents District 1, argued otherwise, saying that the council was told the two were tied together. He voted against the fee hike tied into the project.

A judge denied the city’s request to dismiss the suit last November, before more Denverites joined on.

But the council in August signed off on a nearly $45 million contract with Saunders Construction for golf course improvements and renovations. Another contract worth around $7.6 million is related to storm-water work, and a third contract includes additional drainage improvements. The course would re-open in 2019, according to plans.

The plans also called for 261 trees to be removed from the golf course, though around 750 trees will be planted after the project is complete, according to the city.

A hearing on the tree removal had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, but was canceled after the judge’s decision.

Judge David H. Goldberg denied the plaintiffs’ request for declaratory relief and a permanent injunction, writing “that neither the Denver City Charter, the Denver Zoning Code, nor Colorado common law provides a basis for this Court” to rule in favor of the declaratory judgment. He added that while he believed there were legitimate concerns about the projects being tied together, it wasn't within his authority to decide.

Aaron Goldhamer, who is representing MacFarlane and the other plaintiffs in the case, said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision in a written statement to Denver7:

“While Judge Goldberg found that—in fact—the proposed project will result in a ‘materially detrimental’ effect on the natural habitat and neighborhood due to the loss of mature trees, and that the large scale regrading of the course may result ‘in detrimental changes to the health of the soil and remaining trees,’ he found that the existing law compelled his deference to the decision of Denver’s Department of Parks and Recreation to proceed with the project,” Goldhamer said. “The Judge also acknowledged the ‘significant detriment’ to Denver residents should the course lose its historic designations, which he acknowledged is a real possibility. Judge Goldberg noted he was ‘loath’ to see the course close, but that his hands were tied under existing law to defer to our elected officials and their appointees. To ensure that Denver’s parks are protected in the future, we may need new laws or new elected officials.”

Goldhamer said the plaintiffs in the case “are evaluating their appellate options.”

Christine O'Connor, one of the plaintiffs, gathered with other neighbors in the courthouse after they learned the hearing had been canceled.

"We’re going to keep fighting for city parks," O'Connor said. "The thing that’s most disappointing about this is residents like myself have been watching the city chip and chip and chip away at our park system for other uses because it’s free, because it’s available land, but we feel strongly this was not a parks project. It was a public works project to create a diversion for I-70."

Denver Public Works, however, in a written statement said it was pleased with the decision:

“We are pleased that the Court has agreed with the City’s interpretation of the Denver Charter and Zoning Code and that the City Park Golf Course Redesign project will be able to proceed.

“As the City showed during the trial, harmonizing stormwater management and recreation in urban parks is a best practice that Denver, and cities around the world, are utilizing to create great public spaces that provide a multitude of environmental benefits.

“The City Park Golf Course Redesign Project represents a key opportunity to address the need for increased flood control to protect residents and other property owners in the Montclair Basin and improve water quality while also modernizing and improving the City Park Golf Course for golfers and the community as a whole."

Nancy Kuhn of Denver Public Works tells Denver7's Jaclyn Allen that work on the storm-water project is expected to get underway next month.