Hentzell Park: Neighbors launch drive to stop Denver land swap

Michael Hancock.
A much-contested deal to trade eleven acres of open space in the Cherry Creek corridor for an office building in central Denver, pushed by Mayor Michael Hancock and approved by city council in April, has triggered not one but two citizen petition drives to nix the swap and protect the land in question -- one of the last remnants of a prairie ecosystem in the city limits.

Voters may get to decide the matter this fall, although the city's efforts to squelch the campaign may result in a battle in court first.

As we've previously reported, the transaction involves turning over 11.5 acres of city property in a formerly designated "natural area" adjoining Paul A. Hentzell Park in southeast Denver to the Denver Public Schools. DPS wants to build an elementary school there to take the pressure off other overcrowded schools in the area. In return, the city would take over a DPS building at 13th and Fox and convert it to a "family justice center," housing various agencies that provide services to domestic violence victims.

Hancock, who's described the area as "blighted" and overrun with prairie dogs, and Denver Parks and Recreation director Lauri Dannemillier obtained city council approval of the swap on April 1 -- even though Dannemiller's own advisory board urged rejection of the proposal, saying that it set a dangerous precedent for commercializing open space.

hentzel park.jpg
Hentzell Park.
At public hearings, numerous park advocates and nearby residents spoke against the proposal, disputing Hancock's description of the property and questioning the appropriateness of the site (adjacent to busy Havana Street) for a school. Now, a recently formed group called Friends of Denver Parks is launching two petition campaigns to put the issue on the ballot this fall -- a referendum to repeal the ordinance that okays the swap and an initiative to dedicate the "de-designated" natural area as park land to be protected in perpetuity.

Late last week, Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson rejected the paperwork submitted on the referendum drive, claiming that it didn't contain sufficient language for a repeal effort. But John Case, a Hampden Heights resident and attorney for the repeal campaign, contends that Johnson's objection wasn't filed in time and is erroneous.

"If they want to take us to court, that's fine with us," Case says. "We like the issue."

Case's group is meeting with representatives of the city attorney's office and city council this afternoon (3:30 pm in Room 391 of the City and County Building, 1437 Bannock) to try to thrash through some of their differences. A citizen's petition in Denver requires around 6,500 signatures to make it on the ballot; Case says his group is shooting for 10,000 on each of the two efforts and believes voters will rally behind the effort to protect the conversion of open space to other uses.

"What DPS would do would totally change the character of this property," he says. "It's been listed as a park since 1927. Starting in 2007, it's shown in city maps as a park. We feel the issue is pretty clear."

More from our Environment archive: "Hentzell Park flap: Should Denver trade open space for offices?"

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This park space is the only free park space in this side of town open to all to enjoy and frequented by plenty of Denver Folk as well as a natural wildlife corridor. This Park was slated to be improved as an open space but Denver Council decided it was too much trouble to try to bring improvements so they let it lay fallow. Open spaces are precious resources and can never be replaced. Once they have done this they will turn to your part of town and remove your park too....and the wildlife will start running through your backyards...



Unfortunately, this is the internet.  Logic and reasoning are not allowed and the story must be about 6 very loud people.  And obviously the raccoons and illegal dumpers really love the vacant parking lot that is currently where most of the future building will go.


I'm a Hampden Heights neighbor.  The contested space is an unzoned area, not open space.  It cannot be "de-designated" since it was never designated in the first place.  The real open space is north of the proposed school site.  The land they want to swap is abandoned space, not designated.

The new school will not intrude on the beavers or the owls or the hawks that nested in our cottonwood tree.  It has been suggested that the new school have a science and nature focus to encourage the students to explore and learn about the ecosystems right next door to them.  How wonderful it would be to have America's next generation of scientists and ecologists growing up in our back yard!

Support the land swap - support education - support the future.


That is true and this is a Great Horned Owl nesting ground,  we just got a batch of babies born in the cottonwoods here.  There is a beaver colony, and a prairie dog town. They plan to euthanise the prairie dog colony.   I hope others will be upset too!  Call  Friends of Denver Parks 303-337-2947 if you want to help by circulating a petition.

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