No Vote, No Trial, No Citizen Input On Hentzell Park

By Charles C. Bonniwell, The Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle June 2014

For over two years Denver park advocates who formed the entity Friends of Denver Parks have attempted to assert the rights of citizens of Denver as guaranteed by the Denver City Charter and the Colorado State Constitution to vote on matters critical to them and in particular on whether Mayor Michael Hancock could simply trade away 11 acres of open space land for development at Hentzell Park for a rundown office building in downtown Denver.

The city, led by Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell, has blocked all efforts for citizens to have that say. First he claimed that Denver City Charter Sec. 2.4.5., that requires “approval of a majority of registered voters” for the sale or lease of any park or any portion of any park, does not apply since it had not officially been designated a park not withstanding all appearances to the contrary, and even prior statements by the Mayor of Denver in 1979 that the property was “dedicated park land.”

When parks advocates sufficiently gathered signatures under their right of referendum and initiative as seemingly guaranteed by of the City Charter Sec. 8.3.1 and the State Constitution, Broadwell instructed the City Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson to reject the petitions. He claimed that the swap was an administrative not a legislative action and that vitiated any right of the citizens on the matter.

Municipal law experts noted that the City Clerk and Recorder position was deliberately made by the City Charter as a separately elected officer so not to be under the control of the Mayor of Denver directly or indirectly through the City Attorney. Nonetheless, Johnson took the instructions from Broadwell and rejected the petitions.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FRIENDS OF DENVER PARKS CHALLENGES JUDGE STERN’S RULING

Dear Friends,
On May 23, 2014 Friends of Denver Parks, Steve Waldstein, and Zelda Hawkins filed their Motion for Post-Trial Relief. The motion asks Judge Herbert L. Stern III to reverse his previous order granting summary judgment for the City and DPS, and re-schedule the case for trial.
Copies of the Motion and Exhibits are attached. It may be of interest to you that DPS produced a “smoking gun” document in discovery in which both Defendants acknowledged that Hampden Heights North Park is a Park. The document is Exhibit 3 attached to the motion.
Once again, thanks to all of you and to Russ Jones of Benson & Case for his fine work on the brief.
We will see where this adventure leads next. Look for Friends of Denver Parks to continue this fight in the courts, and to launch a ballot initiative to protect all Denver parks in the near future.
Love and courage, John
John Case

BENSON & CASE, LLP

Documents are published here:

May 23 2014 Motion For Post Trial Relief

Hentzell Park: Judge upholds “less than transparent” land swap

By Alan Prendergast, Westword May 12, 2014

When does a park become a park? Is it when people start using it for recreation and picnics? When the area starts showing up on maps labeled as a park? When the Mayor of Denver describes it as “dedicated park land,” while assuring nearby homeowners it won’t be developed? Or is it when the city starts to maintain it, build trails on it and post signs about observing park rules?

None of the above, apparently. Not according to Denver District Court Judge Herbert Stern III — who, practically on the eve of trial, dismissed the case a grass-roots parks group had brought challenging the city’s decision to transfer eleven acres of open space in the Cherry Creek corridor in exchange for an office building downtown.

Mayor Michael Hancock’s plan to hand over the property adjacent to Paul A. Hentzell Park to the Denver Public Schools for a new school, in exchange for a DPS administration building that’s now being converted to a one-stop services center for domestic violence victims, has triggered a slew of questions about how the city officially designates — and protects — its parks. Although the property was officially declared a “natural area” just a few years ago, Hancock insisted that it was “blighted;” Denver Parks and Recreation manager Lauri Dannemiller withdrew the natural area designation, and the Denver City Council approved the deal last spring.

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