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.